Inulin – sugar reduction in practice

If only something sweet was needed to replace sugar, the equation would have been simple. But to get the right taste, texture, body and juiciness require more than sweetness. To get the right mouthfeel, inulin may be the key ingredient you are looking for. But it takes finesse to find the right balance.

26 March 2020 •

Sugar reduc­tion is excit­ing but com­plex work. In an arti­cle series, we will look at some ingre­di­ents that can be used to reduce sug­ar in foods. How can the ingre­di­ents be used and what should be con­sid­ered? These are the ques­tions we will answer! In this arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at inulin.

What is inulin?

Inulin is a fiber that is com­mon in the plant king­dom. It is found in many fruits and veg­eta­bles. For exam­ple, inulin makes up 0.3 to 0.7 per­cent of the banana you eat for snacks. And the onion in the food you have for lunch con­tains between 1 and 20 per­cent inulin.

But for sug­ar reduc­tion, you have to use inulin which is extract­ed from the root of a com­mon plant along our roads: The Chicory plant. Chicory roots con­sist of 15 to 20 per­cent inulin.

You can read more about the extrac­tion of inulin in the arti­cle Inulin – from seed to Eureba.

Replacing sugar with fiber

Inulin has some sweet­ness. But not enough to replace the sweet­ness from sug­ar. So why should you use it for sug­ar reduction?

Well, inulin has a pos­i­tive effect on the taste of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides which is a high-inten­si­ty sweet sub­stance extract­ed from the plant ste­via. Steviol gly­co­sides have a slight­ly bit­ter taste and slight­ly licorice-like after­taste. But with inulin, the flavour spec­trum is moved away from the less desir­able flavours. Instead, the taste is per­ceived as sweet­er and more pleasant.

Reduces calories

In addi­tion to its flavour-enhanc­ing prop­er­ties, inulin acts as a calo­rie reduc­ing ingre­di­ent. The calo­rie-reduc­ing effect is relat­ed to the fact that inulin is a dietary fiber.

The fact that inulin is a fiber means that it pass­es through the diges­tive sys­tem with­out being bro­ken down. But the bac­te­ria in the colon can feast on inulin. In this fer­men­ta­tion process, short-chain fat­ty acids are formed that the body can absorb. In this way, the body is fed about 2 kcal per 1 gram of inulin. That’s half the amount com­pared to sugar.

Another dif­fer­ence com­pared to sug­ar lies in the decom­po­si­tion time. While sug­ar is rapid­ly bro­ken down and absorbed by the body, inulin takes its time. It gives a longer feel­ing of saturation.

Triggers the stomach

A low­er amount of calo­ries and longer sati­ety are two ben­e­fits of inulin com­pared to sugar.

But watch out! You don’t want to over­con­sume inulin. Anyone who eats more than 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day may get stom­ach prob­lems. Too much fiber gen­er­ates gas­es which, in turn, cause flat­u­lence and dis­com­fort. This could even­tu­al­ly lead to diarrhea.

Water-soluble

Inulin is water-sol­u­ble. This makes the ingre­di­ent easy to work with. But it also has oth­er pos­i­tive effects.

With a lit­tle acid and heat, inulin dis­solved in water can be both more or less vis­cous. And with more than 15 per­cent inulin, it is pos­si­ble to cre­ate both cream and jelly.

Inulin also binds mois­ture, which can be used, for exam­ple, to give pas­tries a juicy, soft, and fresh feel.

High compatibility

With its ver­sa­til­i­ty, inulin fits into many dif­fer­ent types of foods. It works well in dairy prod­ucts, sweets and in breads and pas­tries. But it also fits in cere­als and healthy gra­nola, in mues­li bars, and in drinks. Inulin has a jel­ly effect that can be used in creams and jams.

Inulin blends well with high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ers, and can also be com­bined with sug­ar alco­hols, poly­dex­trose and oth­er fibers.

Now it sounds like inulin is the per­fect date, every­one seems to like hang­ing out with inulin! However, that’s not real­ly the case.

Not always a match

Infitullin should not be used in foods with a pH-val­ue too low. If so, inulin is bro­ken down into fruc­tose, which the liv­er con­verts into fat. As a result, both the reduced calo­ries and the feel­ing of sati­ety are lost.

Inulin can, how­ev­er, be used in foods with some acid, such as yoghurt, milk and beer, as long as the pH val­ue is over 3.5.

Replacing sugar with inulin

Can you direct­ly replace sug­ar with inulin in a recipe for, let’s say, bread?

Well … if you do, you will at best get a pale bread that tastes less sweet than the orig­i­nal and caus­es stom­ach prob­lems. So let’s take a step back and think about what can be done.

Inulin is chains of linked fruc­tose moi­eties that ter­mi­nate with a sin­gle glu­cose moi­ety. The chains can vary in length from 2 to 60 parts of fruc­tose. Chains of dif­fer­ent lengths have dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. For exam­ple, a dough gets more sweet­ness of short­er chains, but increased elas­tic­i­ty of longer chains. The first thing you need to do to suc­ceed with your bak­ing is to find out the cor­rect com­po­si­tion of inulin of dif­fer­ent lengths.

The next step will be to com­pen­sate for the reduced sweet­ness. If you do not want to add more calo­ries and want to avoid syn­thet­ic sweet­en­ers, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides is a good option in tech­ni­cal terms. But cur­rent EU-reg­u­la­tions does not approve of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides in bak­ery, with a few excep­tions (read more in this arti­cle). Therefore, you must con­sid­er oth­er solu­tions to com­pen­sate for the sweetness.

Then you have to think about how to give the bread the right colour. It may get some colour from inulin. Of course, inulin is ther­mal­ly sta­ble in itself, but water, acid and the right tem­per­a­ture can cause inulin to give off fruc­tose, which under­goes Maillard reac­tion and is caramelized upon heat­ing. But it is not enough to give the right colour. You need to add some­thing else. The ques­tion is what?

Finally, we must take into account the stom­achs of our con­sumers. If as much inulin is used as sug­ar, there is a high risk that con­sumers will get too much fiber in one day. The result is, at best, gas­es and flat­u­lence. At worst, diar­rhea. Thus, inulin alone can­not replace sugar.

We ask Srdjan

So how are you going to solve the mat­ter with inulin?

We ask Srdjan Solaja, food engi­neer, and expert in sug­ar reduction.

– There is no sim­ple answer. To achieve bet­ter results, you must test and exper­i­ment. You need to have in-depth knowl­edge of the var­i­ous ingre­di­ents that can be used for sug­ar reduc­tion. Only then can one know how they can be com­bined and used to lift each oth­er, with­out exceed­ing the rec­om­mend­ed dai­ly intake, says Srdjan Solaja.

What does he think it is like work­ing with inulin?

– Inulin is sim­pler than, for exam­ple, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, but it is still a com­plex task. Especially since we must con­stant­ly take into account the rec­om­mend­ed dai­ly intake and ensure that the con­sumer does not get too much. It is a quest to find the right com­bi­na­tion for the spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion. Different foods need dif­fer­ent solu­tions, says Srdjan Solaja.

Srdjan’s three tips

  1. It can replace added sug­ar 1:1 but don’t do that. Instead, replace 20–30% of the added sug­ar first, and see what happens.
  2. Inulin is not as sweet as sug­ar. Therefore, you need to com­bine it with oth­er bulk sweet­en­ers or high-inten­si­ty sweeteners.
  3. Take care of your stom­ach. Inulin can be lax­a­tive or cause bloat­ing and stom­ach upset if con­sumed in high con­cen­tra­tion. You want to avoid that effect.

A Helping Hand

Do you find sug­ar reduc­tion hard? Don’t wor­ry – please con­tact us. We offer ready-made solu­tions as well as tai­lor-made solu­tions.

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