Guar gum is commonly used in a range of food products as a thickener, emulsifier and stabiliser. Derived from the ground endosperm of seeds of the guar plant, the specifications of the ingredient were laid out in commission directive 96/77/EC.
Danisco has spent several years developing a partially depolymerised version of the gum, which business director Kenneth Thoroe Hansen described as "a new hydrocolloid". He told FoodNavigator.com that it can deliver more controllable, clean textures with no gumminess or off-taste.
The positive opinion issued by EFSA's scientific panel for additives, under novel foods legislation, opens the door to market entry, and Thoroe Hansen said the Danish company will be ready to unleash the ingredient towards the end of this year.
At this stage, however, the company is still keeping precise specifications under wraps. Thoroe Hansen declined to comment on the kinds of applications it could have in foods.
The company is not considering the new ingredient as a replacement for conventional guar gum per se, but as a complementary offering that brings new functionalities. It could, however, be used in place of some other hydrollocoids if is more cost effective.
Conventional guar gum is described as consisting "mainly of a high molecular weight hydrocolloidal polysaccharide composed of galactopyranose and mannopyranose units combined through glycosidic linkages, which may be described chemically as galactomannan".
The partially depolymerised guar gum is cut into smaller molecular weight sizes, and has different viscosity properties.
The gum can be depolymiserised by one of three processes: heat treatment, acid hydrolysis or alkaline oxidation. Thoroe Hansen declined to say which process Danisco plans to use.
The main difference between conventional guar gum and the partially depolymerised version is in the levels of salts - sodium citrate and sodium phosphate - which come about as a result of neutralisation as part of the acid hydrolysis or alkaline oxidation processes. These salts are deemed safe in foods.
In its opinion, EFSA said: "Since the molecular weight of partially depolymerised guar gum appears to fall within the specifications of native guar gum, which is the guar gum already accepted for food use, the panel concludes that there is no safety concern for the partially depolymerised guar gum prepared by either heat treatment, acid hydrolysis or alkaline oxidation at estimated levels of intake."
Indeed, in order for the gum to fall within food grade levels, the molecular weight must lie between 50,000 and 8,000,000, with Danisco's gum falling within these limits. Some PHGG products are available commercially, with molecular weights of 20,000 being quoted.
Danisco included in its petition the findings of a 90-day rat study, in which the animals showed no adverse effects of being fed partially depolymerised guar gum up to a dose of 50g/kg diet (up to 2500mg/kg bw/day).
It did say, however, that the specifications for guar gum could need to be modified to take account of the higher salt levels, and possible undesirable by-products like furfural and peroxides.
No comment could be given as to whether the specification modification could present a hurdle or a delay to full regulatory approval.