Inulin – from seed to Eureba

Chicory is grown for the extraction of inulin, used in the food industry to replace sugar and fat. Inulin works best in combination with other ingredients - as in Bayn’s sweetened fibres - Eureba. Would you like to learn more about inulin and the path from chicory seed to Eureba? Read on!

22 October 2019 • and

Chicory is a peren­ni­al tall plant with beau­ti­ful, blue flow­ers. It grows wild by the road­sides through­out Europe, as far north as the south­ern parts of Scandinavia. But it is also farmed, main­ly for its roots which are rich in the dietary fibre inulin. This is one of the fibres we use in sev­er­al of our sweet­ened fibres that we mar­ket under the brand Eureba. So, what exact­ly is inulin and why is it extract­ed from the chico­ry root? Let’s find out.

Fibres

Inulin is a car­bo­hy­drate that pass­es through your diges­tive tract with­out being digest­ed or absorbed. On the way it absorbs liq­uid and becomes a gel. This makes inulin a sol­u­ble dietary fibre.

Dietary fibres, or in short fibres, are called edi­ble car­bo­hy­drates that are nei­ther digest­ed nor absorbed in the small intes­tine in humans. They can be found nat­u­ral­ly in foods and have a ben­e­fi­cial phys­i­o­log­i­cal effect, as demon­strat­ed by wide­ly accept­ed sci­en­tif­ic evidence.

Fibres that dis­solve in water and become a gel are called sol­u­ble fibres. And the oth­ers are quite log­i­cal­ly called insol­u­ble.

The Importance of Fibres in Digestion

Since fibres are not digest­ed, they also don’t give any ener­gy to the body and have no effect on the blood sug­ar. In addi­tion, the gel of sol­u­ble fibres will stem the rise in blood sug­ar by pro­tect­ing car­bo­hy­drates from break­ing and glu­cose from being absorbed.

Fibres pro­vide bulk, which increas­es the feel­ing of sat­u­ra­tion. This feel­ing is pro­longed by sol­u­ble fibres which slow down the diges­tive process.

Another ben­e­fit is that water-sol­u­ble fibres have been found to reduce the LDL, also known as “the bad cholesterol”.

Feed the good bacteria

Finally, fibres pro­vide nour­ish­ment for the ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria in the colon, they break them down into short-chain fat­ty acids and gases.

The lat­ter could be a prob­lem if you would con­sume too much fibre. 25 to 35 grams of fibre per day, is a guide­line from the Swedish National Food Administration, for an ade­quate amount for adults. But the aver­age con­sumers don’t con­sume that much fibre, accord­ing to Rikssmaten sur­vey 2010-11*.

Inulin and oligofructose

Ålandsrot (Inula hele­ni­um) är en med­i­c­i­nalväxt som odlades för sin rots skull. Det var roten som den tyske forskaren Valentin Rose hade kokat när han 1804 fick ett ”märk­ligt veg­etabiliskt ämne” som upp­kallades efter Ålandsrotens latin­s­ka namn: inulin. Ålandsroten kan bli upp till två meter hög och är inte olik solros.

None of this was known by German sci­en­tist Valentin Rose when he cooked the roots of Elecampane in 1804 and received a “strange veg­etable sub­stance”. The strange sub­stance was inulin.

Inulin is a chain of two or more fruc­tose moi­eties bound by ß (2 → 1) bonds. This for­ma­tion is a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of inulin. Chains with up to nine fruc­tose units are called fruc­tooligosac­cha­rides (abbre­vi­at­ed FOS) or oligofruc­tose. Chains with 10+ fruc­tose units are sim­ply called inulin. Inulin can con­sist of more than 60 units of fructose.

Inulin in medicine

Inulin was thus dis­cov­ered in Elecampane, also called horse-heal or elf­dock. Its Latin name is Inula hele­ni­um. That’s where inulin got its name.

Elecampane has been cul­ti­vat­ed since Roman times as a med­i­c­i­nal plant. It was con­sid­ered a chest- and stom­ach rem­e­dy. A claim that is not com­plete­ly And they might not be com­plete­ly unfound­ed, as inulin is a pop­u­lar ingre­di­ent in health- and func­tion­al food.

Inulin also has anoth­er ther­a­peu­tic use. In the 1930s, when researchers stud­ied the func­tion of the kid­neys, they searched for a sub­stance that could func­tion as a bio­mark­er. Inulin’s resis­tance to diges­tion made it a per­fect solu­tion. It is still used today as a mark­er for renal function.

Primarily though, it is in the food and bev­er­age indus­try that inulin is used.

Inulin in foods

Inulin is pri­mar­i­ly used to fill the void when you reduce sug­ar or fat. Several of inulin’s prop­er­ties make it inter­est­ing for this purpose.

Inulin has a sub­tle, sweet taste. Its sweet­ness varies with the num­ber of fruc­tose units. The short­er, the sweet­er. Oligofructose, which is inulin with less than ten parts of fruc­tose, has 30 to 50 per­cent of the sweet­ness of the sug­ar. While inulin with more than  ten parts fruc­tose has a sweet­ness between 1 to 14 per­cent of sugar.

To increase the sweet­ness, high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ing agents can be added. Conversely, the dis­creet taste and sweet­ness of inulin can be used to mask a dif­fer­ent taste or after­taste of sweeteners.

When inulin is com­bined with oth­er ingre­di­ents, you can use acid hydrol­y­sis (water, acid and heat) to pro­duce vis­cous liq­uids. If the pro­por­tion of inulin exceeds 15 per­cent, it can, as an exam­ple be used in jel­lies or creams.

Available in nature

Inulin is found in more than 35,000 dif­fer­ent species of plants, includ­ing many com­mon fruits and veg­eta­bles. Bananas con­tain 0.3 to 0.7 per­cent inulin. But this is noth­ing com­pared to:

  • Wheat: 1–4 percent
  • Artichoke: 2–3 percent
  • Yellow onion: 1–8 percent
  • Artichoke: 3–10 percent
  • Garlic: 9–16 percent
  • Leek: 16–20 percent

But for indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of inulin the root of the chico­ry plant (Cichorium inty­bus) is used. These roots con­tain of 15 to 20 per­cent inulin.

Chicory is grown for its roots that are rich in inulin. Before bloom­ing, they can be mis­tak­en for their rel­a­tive dan­de­lion. Incidentally, the dan­de­lion root also con­tains a lot of inulin.

Inulin is a plant’s survival kit

Chicory is an easy crop to cul­ti­vate. As a crop, the plant is durable and easy to grow. The long tap­root is resis­tant to drought and is there­fore geo­graph­i­cal­ly suit­ed for many dif­fer­ent climates.

For the plant, inulin acts as a sur­vival kit when nature plays hard­ball. Inulin is water-sol­u­ble and osmot­i­cal­ly active. This means that plants can adjust the needs and flu­id lev­el in their cells. The plants do this by chang­ing their metab­o­lism and their com­po­si­tion of water and sug­ar mol­e­cules, with­out chang­ing the total amount of car­bo­hy­drates. In this way, they can with­stand both cold and dry weath­er dur­ing the win­ter with­out freez­ing or loss of nutrients.

Cultivation of chicory

This har­di­ness con­tributes to the pop­u­lar­i­ty of chico­ry among grow­ers. The herb orig­i­nal­ly comes from Europe and this is also where the largest chico­ry grow­ing farms are. Chicory for com­mer­cial use is grown main­ly in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Chicory is grown in much the same way as sug­ar beets or bras­si­cas, sow­ing in spring and har­vest­ing from September to December.

The chico­ry roots are har­vest­ed in the same way as sug­ar beets. Its foliage can be returned to the soil or used as ani­mal feed.

Preparation of inulin

Inulin is extract­ed from chico­ry roots in much the same way as sug­ar from sug­ar beets.

First, the chico­ry roots are cleaned, then sliced or crushed, and then soaked in 70–80°C hot water for about two hours to extract the inulin. The leached chips are dried and sold as ani­mal feed.

The obtained raw juice con­tains a lot of unwant­ed sub­stances. Much of this floats to the sur­face or sinks to the bot­tom, where it can be puri­fied by lim­ing  and car­bon­a­tion. The result is a juice that needs fur­ther purification.

In the next purifi­ca­tion step ion-exchange is used. This is the same tech­nique that is used for the purifi­ca­tion of drink­ing water, from iron, man­ganese and oth­er met­als. Then the juice is run through acti­vat­ed car­bon for decolouri­sa­tion. And final­ly, the juice is ster­ilised by press­ing it through a very fine filter.

The inulin now needs to be sep­a­rat­ed from the liq­uid. Most of it is done through evap­o­ra­tion, by cen­trifug­ing or both. The remains are inject­ed under high pres­sure into a tank with hot air. When the dis­persed droplets meet the hot air, the remain­ing liq­uid evap­o­rates and we are left with inulin in the form of a powder.

Chicory is not only inulin

Although chico­ry is grown pri­mar­i­ly for the pro­duc­tion of inulin, it also has oth­er uses. Several com­mon let­tuce vari­eties are vari­eties of chico­ry, like endives and curled-leaved endive.

Chicory is also used as a catch crop. This means that it is sown in the main crop, and it reduce nitrate leach­ing from the soil as the plant is turned into the soil again in the fall. Chicory is good at pick­ing up nitrates from the ground right down to a metre deep.

Chicory is also suit­able for graz­ing, as it grows most­ly dur­ing the sum­mer, when the growth of oth­er pas­ture feeds slow down as weath­er gets hot­ter and drier.

Chicory’s beau­ti­ful blue flow­ers are appre­ci­at­ed by bum­ble­bees and bees.

Inulin in Eureba

Inulin is a dietary fibre with some sweet­ness. But not enough to replace sug­ar 1: 1. In addi­tion, there are few foods where it is pos­si­ble to remove one kilo­gram of sug­ar and replace it with one kilo­gram of inulin, with­out unde­sired side effects.

That’s why we devel­op sweet­ened fibres, they can real­ly replace 1: 1 sug­ar in your recipe with­out hav­ing to alter your pro­duc­tion. We have dif­fer­ent sweet­ened fibres for dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions. A num­ber of them con­tain, for exam­ple, inulin sweet­ened with ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides.

Finally

We hope we have whet­ted your appetite and you are now curi­ous to learn more about Eureba. We may even have a ready-made solu­tion for your spe­cif­ic needs. (It’s quite like­ly. If not, we will pro­duce one for you.) Please, don’t hes­i­tate to con­tact us. We would be hap­py to answer your ques­tions. Give us a ring on +46 8 613 28 88 or send an e‑mail to info@​baynsolutions.​com.

 

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