"We see health and wellness creeping in to every aspect of the food industry," Dr. Steve Bodicoat, marketing and innovations director for CP Kelco, told FoodNavigator.com at the recent FiE in London.
"Removing the negatives, like sugar, salt and fat, and adding back the positives, like iron, calcium and vitamins, creates new problems that we can help solve," he added.
Bodicoat explained that many of these micronutrients do not exist in the initial materials, be that water, dairy or soya systems. By adding these micronutrients to the formulation, and thereby increasing the particule content, ingredients are then needed to help suspend and stabilise the functional ingredients.
"This is creating fantastic opportunities for us as a hydrocolloids company to provide solutions about suspension and stabilisation without just thickening the beverage so it becomes undrinkable," he said.
While there exists the temptation for hydrocolloids to act as healthy ingredients, based on a small but growing body of science is linking hydrocolloids to specific health benefits, CP Kelco does not market their ingredients as 'healthy'. Bodicoat added that he couldn't imagine that other hydrocolloid companies are looking to establish ingredients as functional food ingredients.
Instead, the company is focussing purely on solving problems presented by the shift towards health and wellness, and within this he said that pectin is seen as the most versatile.
"Pectin is versatile in that it is quite a complex molecule, and [the functionality] depends on the solid content, heating temperature, the process conditions, and the level of calcium," said Bodicoat. "These are all very important for how the pectin actually works in the consumer product."
The functionality of pectin is dictated by the chemical fine structure, and the majority of the pectin used currently comes from citrus peel and apple pomace. Other sources of the ingredient, such as sugar beet, mango, pumpkin and squash, have remained largely unexploited because of certain undesirable structural properties.
Bodicoat confirmed that the company is experimenting with other sources, but ultimately see more potential in citrus.
"There is scope to improve citrus pectin," he said.
This has led to a number of novel citrus pectin ingredients, created by looking at less degradation, more 'wholesome' extraction, and adjusting the degree of esterification of the pectin.
"Increasingly developed LME products in terms of using enzyme technology to extend the functionality and broaden the base of pectin's performance," said Bodicoat.
"Particularly see a trend in mildness in drinks, increasing the pH. Pectin has historically worked better at lower pH (4.0 to 4.1). We've got products that work at pH 4.4, 4.5, which is new and due to the technology we have."
Pectin has a worldwide production estimated at 35,000 tonnes a year, and is currently widely used as gelling agents in jams, confectionary, and bakery fillings, and stabilisers in yoghurts and milk drinks.
"We really need to understand the manufacturer's processing conditions and formulations, and then, because of pectin's complexity, we can really start to develop new products using enzyme technology to broaden the functionality, broaden the scope of operations of [pectin]," he said.
Another area of potential for pectin is the replacement of milk proteins, spurred on by price hikes for the dairy ingredients.
Dairy prices have skyrocketed this year, partly due to the rising cost in animal feed. According to the University of Wisconsin's dairy marketing programme, the average price of wet condensed skim milk in Northwest USA was $2.15 per lb in October 2007 - more than double the price one year earlier.
Such a story has a bearing on all dairy products and derivatives used throughout the food production and supply chain.
According to Bodicoat: "Pectin is the most effective [alternative] by far."
"Other materials can do it, but the quality of the final product is affected," he added.
Moreover, the company is working on hydrocolloid solutions for poorer nations where affordability is an issue for people in the bottom 20 per cent of the income scale.
Bodicoat explained that many desserts are based on dairy, but products intended for countries in Africa and South America are being formulated with between 20 and 85 per cent dairy replaced with water and hydrocolloid.
All in all, "customers are driving the changes, and by doing so they create new opportunities that we can help solve," he said.