Industry innovation targets gelatine alternatives

26 Oct 2018

Many alternatives to animal-derived gelatine already exist, although none is a perfect replacement. Now, rising interest in vegetarian ingredients has led to a new wave of innovation in the sector.

Industry innovation targets gelatine alternatives

Gelatine is made from the skin, bones and connective tissues of cattle, chicken, pigs and fish, and is commonly used in gummy confectionery, marshmallows, gelled desserts, as well as in some dips, yoghurts and ice cream. It is prized for its neutral taste and emulsifying, binding, gelling and stabilising advantages in a wide range of foods. However, rising demand for vegetarian and vegan foods has increased interest in animal-free alternatives.

Agar-agar, starches, pectin and other gums are among those already available, but ingredient suppliers have become increasingly creative. US-based Puris, for example, has introduced an alternative to both gelatine and pectin for gummies based on pea starch. It recently partnered with Cargill to ramp up production of its core pea protein ingredient, and the starch is a by-product of that process. While other starches may mute flavours, the company says its new ingredient has flavour enhancing properties, which could be of interest for manufacturers of gummies, for both confectionery and supplements.

Many gelatine manufacturers would argue that gelatine is a sustainable, value-added ingredient using parts of animals that would otherwise go to waste, and the global gelatine industry continues to grow rapidly.

However, much of the growth in gelatine comes from developing markets, and is also driven by increased wealth in countries like India and China, where concern about animal-derived ingredients tends to be lower. Meanwhile, in more mature markets, an increasing number of consumers is looking for animal-free alternatives, according to market research firm Global Industry Analysts. GIA predicts a slowdown in demand in European and North American markets for gelatine as a result.

Yet in general, many plant-based alternatives suffer from functional drawbacks, such as excessive stickiness associated with pectin in some applications, and the possibility of an unpleasant texture in products that use starches at high levels. Gelatine is also unique in its ability to stabilise foams, which is particularly useful in many confectionery products and desserts.

US-based start-up Geltor claims to have skirted these problems by developing a gelatine ingredient using microbial fermentation to produce collagen, from which gelatine is derived. The resulting ingredient is vegan and precisely replicates the functional properties of the animal sourced equivalent. The company still has some regulatory and practical hurdles to overcome before the product will be available to the food industry, but it claims that it will be able to deliver significant quantities within a few years.

It is not just a small number of vegan consumers looking for alternatives to traditional gelatine; many companies are interested in switching to products that are kosher and halal, and some consider that substituting gelatine for a vegetarian alternative could be more in line with the clean label demands of certain consumers.

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