The health halo around protein-fortified foods and beverages shines brighter every day. Its impact on dairy and dairy alternative products is equally as sunny.
While proteins as diverse as pea, oat, seeds and collagen provide plenty of market and innovation opportunities, they also bring new formulation challenges. Some proteins inhibit product flavor, create grit and settle to the bottom.
Make protein palatable
Technical innovation may have brought the new generation of proteins to life, but Mother Nature is providing the solution. For those of you unfamiliar with gellan gum, here is the lowdown on the science behind this nature-based wonder ingredient.
A naturally occurring polysaccharide, gellan gum was discovered on plants of lily pad varieties almost 40 years ago. Through fermentation of the Sphingomonas elodea culture, scientists can produce a bioidential composition and structure. It is unique in its ability to provide suspension independent of protein, through its pseudoplastic fluid gel network.
At rest, the fluid gel has a very high apparent viscosity, resulting in excellent suspension of insoluble ingredients. The fluid gel network is easily disrupted upon drinking, agitation or pouring, resulting in a low viscosity and uniform pour. All of these attributes make gellan gum a multifunctional go-to ingredient for overcoming formulation challenges in milk, plant-based and plant/milk hybrid protein drinks, smoothies and drinking yogurts.
Five ways gellan gum can help
It can conquer suspension.
In the past, suspension was generally left to the consumer, with instructions on the packaging to shake well. “Protein-enriched” meant that you added a scoop of protein powder from a separate canister.
Now protein is more likely part of ready-to-drink dairy beverages, so the task is up to you, the formulator. Count on gellan gum to suspend insoluble ingredients such as proteins, cocoa powder, calcium and other minerals, while contributing minimal viscosity. You don’t have to worry about sediment on the bottom or serum separation in your formulation.
Gellan gum also offers no adverse impact on flavor. You just get a uniform pour with a clean, pleasant mouthfeel in ultra-high temperature processing, neutral-pH protein drinks, and refrigerated and shelf-stable smoothies and drinking yogurts.
It maintains stability.
Alternative protein sources are notorious for stabilization challenges. They can be difficult to hydrate and sensitive to heat and pH, so there’s the threat of protein instability in the finished beverage.
You want your product to maintain consistency over the course of its shelf life and deliver on its benefits in every sip. In addition, it must taste and look good, without separation and settling. Gellan gum forms a fluid gel to stabilize your beverage, add body and prevent phase separation with minimal impact on viscosity.
It tailors texture.
Great texture can be compared to making a memorable first impression. Consumers don’t usually think about it and are hard-pressed to describe it — but they know when it’s not right.
A gelatinous or gritty chocolate milk (dairy or dairy alternative) could turn off a consumer for good. As a best practice, formulators should try to address their texture expectations from the beginning, and work backwards in the process to achieve them.
Define the richness, creaminess and other specific attributes you want consumers to experience when tasting your beverage and rely on gellan gum to help you attain it. In fact, it should be the first tool in your texture toolbox. Gellan gum plays well with other ingredients and hydrocolloid texturants so you can achieve your desired mouthfeel.
It can help you align with your clean-label goals.
In addition to wanting more protein, consumers desire products with cleaner labels. Because clean label is not a well-defined term, it can mean different things to different brands, and encompass categories as broad as vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free, non-GMO, no preservatives and sustainability.
Plant-based products require mindful choices. Turn to nature-based, fermentation-derived gellan gum to help you meet your clean-label requirements with grades that are non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free and more to alleviate any consumer concerns.
It can reduce the number of ingredients on your label.
At the heart of the clean-label trend is a shorter ingredient list. So look for multifunctional ingredients that can do some heavy lifting for you. A little gellan gum accomplishes a lot. It knocks out suspension, stabilization and texture concerns all in one. And it comes in a variety of grades to meet your specification.