Isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO)- sugar reduction in practice

IMO is a dietary fibre that fits well in beverages, cereals and different types of bars. It has bulk qualities and some sweetness which makes it a versatile ingredient. But watch out for the concentration – otherwise, the good qualities can be lost.

29 April 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 ques­tions we should answer! In this arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at IMO.

A clarification

We start this arti­cle with a clar­i­fi­ca­tion. When we write about iso­ma­l­tooligosac­cha­rides, we mean the real thing, which accord­ing to the EU’s def­i­n­i­tion is dietary fibre.

There is noth­ing that can be called pure IMO. What is avail­able for pur­chase con­tains between 50 and 98 per cent IMO. The obvi­ous ques­tion then is – what does the rest con­sist of?

The rest are oth­er car­bo­hy­drates that can be bro­ken down by the body and thus pro­vide calo­ries. That is why an IMO syrup with 50 per cent IMO has a sig­nif­i­cant effect on blood sug­ar, while a ver­sion with 98 per cent gives a neg­li­gi­ble effect.

But if you are inter­est­ed in mak­ing a sug­ar reduc­tion, you may already be aware of this. Especially if you read our arti­cle that fol­lows IMO from its path from raw mate­r­i­al, root cas­sa­va, to fin­ished prod­uct.

What is IMO?

Isomaltooligosaccharides are dietary fibres extract­ed with starch hydrol­y­sis from the coiled root cas­sa­va. It is an inter­est­ing process because cas­sa­va in raw form is poi­so­nous and must be prop­er­ly pre­pared before it is suit­able to eat for us humans. Nevertheless, cas­sa­va is one of the world’s most com­mon sta­ple foods, although we do not see it as often on our din­ing tables. Read our arti­cle Isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO) – from seed to Eureba if you want to know more about the process of obtain­ing IMO.

Proper bulk but poor sweetness

When you have done your research and ordered high qual­i­ty IMO, it is time to start exper­i­ment­ing! IMO with high con­cen­tra­tion car­ries rel­a­tive­ly few calo­ries and has a mild sweet­ness, main­tains juici­ness and pro­vides good fill­ing. The con­sis­ten­cy of the bulk is also rem­i­nis­cent of the sug­ar equiv­a­lent. But IMO does not reach more than about 60 per cent of the sug­ar sweet­ness. You still need a high-inten­si­ty sweetener.

The dosage is important

There aren’t many neg­a­tive aspects to take into con­sid­er­a­tion when using IMO with a high con­cen­tra­tion in sug­ar reduc­tion. As often, the dosage needs to be care­ful­ly weighed to get the best results pos­si­ble, but also because too much IMO can be too much to han­dle for the stom­ach. More than 30-35 grams a day is not rec­om­mend­ed. In con­trast, our stom­achs gen­er­al­ly tol­er­ate IMO bet­ter than, for exam­ple, inulin and fruc­tooligosac­cha­rides, often abbre­vi­at­ed FOS.

The Maillard effect

One of the pos­i­tive prop­er­ties of the iso­ma­l­tooligosac­cha­rides is that your cook­ies will get that creamy, colour­ful and caramelized sur­face that comes from the Maillard effect.

The Maillard effect is caused by a chem­i­cal reac­tion between amino acids and car­bo­hy­drates that results from bak­ing or roast­ing. This effect is strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with baking.

However, it is not appar­ent that there will be no colour or sur­face when we remove the sug­ar. Many sub­sti­tute ingre­di­ents, such as sug­ar alco­hols, for exam­ple, lack the Maillard effect completely.

In what food can you use it?

We find IMO in dif­fer­ent types of prod­ucts. IMO can play dif­fer­ent roles depend­ing on the food it is in. In cere­als, for exam­ple, IMO can be anoth­er source of fibre and thus facil­i­tate digestion.

The amount of IMO approved in foods accord­ing to EU
Food Amount
Energy-reduced soft drinks 6.5 %
Soft drinks 5 %
Energy drinks 5 %
Food for recov­ery in sports 6.5 %
Fruit juice 5 %
Processed veg­eta­bles and veg­etable juices 5 %
Cereal bars 10 %
Cereal bars for breakfast 25%
Cookies and biscuits 20%
Hard can­dy 97%
Soft candy/​chocolate cookies 25%
Meal replace­ment for weight loss 20%

And IMO sits per­fect­ly with bev­er­ages, which oth­er­wise is chal­leng­ing to sweet­en due to their low pH; IMO is sta­ble at pH 2–9.

As with many oth­er ingre­di­ents on the mar­ket, Japan is a pio­neer. The same goes for IMO.

In addi­tion to Japan, IMO is now an approved and estab­lished ingre­di­ent in Australia, Canada, USA and South Korea, among oth­ers. But also in the EU since 2013.

But the EU reg­u­lates what food and the amounts of IMO you are allowed to use in dif­fer­ent food.

Replacing sugar with IMO

If you sim­ply clear a recipe for sug­ar and replace it entire­ly with IMO, you will prob­a­bly get a pret­ty good cook­ie. It will not be flat or pale, but it will not taste as expect­ed. The sweet­ness is missing.

The vol­ume will be there, but the tex­ture may seem a bit odd. There is also a pos­si­bil­i­ty that the cook­ie will not hold togeth­er in the same way as if you used sugar.

The expert’s view in IMO

We turn to Srdjan Solaja, food engi­neer and an expert on sug­ar reduction.

What is your view on work­ing with IMO?

– I enjoy work­ing with IMO. It can replace the bulk-effect in sug­ar, although some­thing else is need­ed to bring up the sweet­ness. IMO is eas­i­er to work with than many oth­er ingre­di­ents, but it still requires a lot of knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence to achieve good – and pleas­ant – results, says Srdjan Solaja.

Is it hard to get good results?

– You need prac­tice, prac­tice and more prac­tice. There are no short­cuts. Although you can, of course, rely on us experts instead. After all, we have devel­oped sug­ar reduc­tions that are adapt­ed to dif­fer­ent foods. We have thought of all poten­tial prob­lems, such as dosage, lim­it val­ues, tex­ture, taste and sweetness.

If, after all, you want to test your­self and work out sug­ar reduc­tion, here’s the expert’s tips to take you on the road.

Srdjan’s three tips

  1. Use IMO in bak­ing. It fits very well. Thanks to the Maillard effect, it gives a brown sur­face and will also give juicy pastries.
  2. Remember that IMO is less sweet than sug­ar – add some­thing for sweetness.
  3. Beware of over­dos­ing, too much IMO will upset your stomach.

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