Fiber and beyond: Technical promise outshines nutritional value

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Fiber's health function has been outpaced by technical promise like sugar reduction and gluten-free improvement, claim ingredients majors Nordic Sugar and Roquette
Fiber's health function has been outpaced by technical promise like sugar reduction and gluten-free improvement, claim ingredients majors Nordic Sugar and Roquette

Related tags Dietary fiber Nutrition

Fortifying cereal-based products with fiber is less about nutrition and more about technical, formulation functions that align with mega-trends like sugar reduction and gluten-free, claim suppliers.

Nordic Sugar said its sugar beet fiber – Fibrex – was being used to improve the processing and quality of gluten-free bakery and Roquette said its wheat fiber – Nutriose – was being used for partial sugar substitution in baked goods, breakfast cereal and cereal bars.

“Manufacturers are looking for the technical benefit and then the fiber content and its health benefits are a bonus now,”​ said Anneli Martensson, key account manager at Nordic Sugar.

This, she told BakeryandSnacks.com, was something that had shifted over the past two decades.  

When the company first launched its sugar beet fiber in the 80s, she said the buzz was purely around increasing fiber content. “Fiber was such a basic ingredient from the start, but now we’ve seen how it can be used in many, many applications.”

Emily Lauwaert, marketing communications manager for Food & Nutrition at Roquette, said that reasons for using fiber varied depending on the product but agreed that technical functions were of increasing interest.

“If we consider sugar reduction using fibers; that’s something quite recent,”​ she said. “Sugar reduction is something, like fat reduction, that is trending.”

Back to basics: Will fiber become important again for its primary nutrition?

However, Lauwaert said despite this sugar-reduction popularity, fiber enrichment remained important for some manufacturers.

“Enriching food with fiber remains a hot topic, because fibers are very well known by consumers as a health tool. Consumers know fiber is good for them.”

There was a need to enrich foods with fiber given the global deficit, she said, and this continued to fuel desire to add fibers. Fiber content was of particular interest to manufacturers looking to make health and nutritional claims, she added.

Discussing Nordic Sugar’s recently approved 13.5 EFSA health claim on sugar beet​, Martensson acknowledged that it would drive importance of fiber content claims. “Fiber enrichment for fiber content will become more important. How important, I don’t know yet.”

However, she said that the high level needed to make the claim (9 g of Fibrex per 100 g product) meant that it would remain niche.

R&D: Sugar reduction and gluten-free improvements

The main technical function of Fibrex, Martensson said, was its water-holding capacity – a function that made it ideal for gluten-free because it acted as a stabilizer. “It’s the combination of soluble and insoluble fiber in Fibrex that does that,”​ she said. 

“It allows you to use more water in your bread. Fibrex will soak up the water and hold it in a very stable way, managing the water throughout the baking process and shelf-life... The way of baking gluten-free has really changed and fiber is one important factor. It doesn’t do the whole job, but certainly compliments other ingredients and works to improve the structure.”

For gluten-free formulations, Fibrex worked well in combination with gums like xanthan or guar, she said, and needed to be used at higher levels than regular bread – up to 3-4% based on flour quantity, compared to 1-2% in regular bread.

Lauwaert said Roquette’s Nutriose acted well as a partial sugar replacement because it exhibited a low viscosity and added bulk which was important for maintaining texture. She said the company had dedicated R&D time to investigating a host of applications that the fiber could be used in.

It had investigated using soluble fibers for partial replacement of the binding sugar or glucose syrup used in cereal bars. Using Nutriose, sugar could be reduced by 30% and enable a 'high fiber' claim because the cereal bar contained 6 g fiber per 100 g or product. It had also reduced the sugar content of shiny coatings used in breakfast cereals.

“Another subject we’re working on is for insoluble fibers which are generally used for their technical aspects, rather than nutritional. Typically, they will bring texture in soft-baked goods,”​ she said.

“Of course we’re exploring each ingredient we have to find new functionalities. We want to unlock technological bolts,”​ she said. “By exploring technological and nutritional sets of each ingredient; of each fiber, we’re able to still innovate and unlock these bolts.”

For more on this 'closing the fiber gap' special edition, see below:

Fiber-rich bakery: What does the science say?

Clever fiber blends offer weight management hope, says Professor

Bread still rules high-fiber realm; Latin America rising fast

Cereal gets to the heart of fiber deficiency, but is fortification the way to go?

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