What is Maltodextrin in Food? DE, Sources, Uses, Benefits, Side Effects

What is itUses | Approved Safety | Possible Side Effects | FAQs

Maltodextrin is a very common food additive that can be found almost everywhere in our diets, such as in ice cream, energy drink and candies. It is easy to digest and tastes either neutral or slightly sweet, and primarily used as a bulking agent and carrier in food.

What is Maltodextrin?

By the FDA’s definition, it is a non-sweet nutritive polysaccharide that consists of D-glucose units linked primarily by α-1-4 bonds and that has a DE of less than 20. It is a white powder or concentrated solution produced by partial hydrolysis of starch from corn, potato or rice with acids and enzymes. (1

What is Dextrose Equivalent (DE)?

DE or reducing sugar content is a measure of the degree of hydrolysis of starch. Starch has a DE of 0, compared to dextrose with a DE of 100. Commonly, maltodextrin sold in the market has a DE between 3 and 20. A higher DE represents a greater extent of the hydrolysis. Several physical, chemical and functional properties, e.g. sweetness and viscosity are based on the extent of starch hydrolysis – DE.

With the increasing of DE, the average molecular weight decreases and it will have a slightly sweet taste which not occurs in the products with lower DE.

The higher the DE, 

  • The lower the average molecular weight and the simpler the molecular structure
  • The lower solubility, viscosity (binding power), anti-crystallising power 
  • The higher sweetness and hygroscopicity
  • The easier to have a browning reaction with protein 

When DE > 20, the product is called glucose syrup instead of maltodextrin. (2)

What is it made from?

Corn starch has been used widely for maltodextrin production, but recently attention has been risen to other starches, like tapioca, potato, rice and wheat. The differences in the structure of maltodextrin from different botanical sources determine their physical, chemical and functional properties but many of their uses are similar.

Corn Maltodextrin

It comes from maize or waxy maize and is the most used maltodextrin among the five types. 

Tapioca Maltodextrin

It is derived from cassava root and its low DE type which has similar properties to those of native starch and is often used as a fat replacer in desserts, ice cream, dressings, and sauces.

Potato Maltodextrin

It has a higher digestion rate in our body, a higher viscosity and forms a more transparent solution than maize and waxy maize maltodextrin if with the same DE. Potato maltodextrin can be used in sports drink as it is absorbed by our body shortly to provide energy. 

Rice Maltodextrin

Rice maltodextrin consists of more low molecular‐weight saccharides and it has higher protein and lipid contents and exhibits high viscosity compared with other maltodextrin. 

Wheat Maltodextrin

As you can see, it is not listed in the plant sources of maltodextrin by the FDA. It may contain gluten but the European Commission has confirmed in Regulation No.1169/2011 that wheat-based maltodextrin is also gluten-free. (3)

What is it made of?

Maltodextrin is an incomplete hydrolysis product of starch. It is made up of small-chain molecules which is a mixture of polysaccharides, tetrasaccharides, or oligosaccharides with more than four glucose units long, also containing a small amount of maltotriose, maltose and glucose. 

Its functional properties are closely related to the reducing sugars composition. The reducing sugars composition in maltodextrin will affect its sweetness, viscosity, hygroscopicity and other properties. Let’s see more details.

  1. DE 4-6 , all compostions are large molecules above tetrasaccharides.
  2. DE 9-12, it contains more high-molecular glucose units and less low-molecular glucose units, no sweetness and not easy to brown and absorb moisture. 
  3. DE 13-17, with low sweetness, relatively low reducing sugars ratio, good solubility, and can produce suitable viscosity in food.
  4. DE18-20, there will be a slight sweetness, moisture absorption will increase, and the occurence of browning effect. 

What is it used for?

Generally, its main purpose in food is for its functional properties such as good solubility, bulking agent adding body, binding power, non-hygroscopicity, sugar crystal growth inhibition, spried dry carrier, reduced browning, thickening agent providing viscosity, freezing-point control, easy to digestion and absorption by our body and a carbohydrate source with neutral or slightly sweetness.

How is it made?

Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate produced by controlled enzymatic hydrolysis, and usually made to spray-dried powder, which may be agglomerated to improve powder flowability and dispersability. The manufacturing process begins with starch slurry. The starch in water slurry is hydrolyzed with α-amylase. 

Starch is a carbohydrate formed by the condensation of many glucose molecules. Most of its molecules are connected by α-1,4-glycosidic links in amylose, and a small amount is combined by α-1,6-glycosidic bonds in amylopectin. 

α-amylase can only hydrolyze α-1,4-glycosidic links but cannot hydrolyze α-1,6-glycosidic bonds. Meanwhile, it is not easy to hydrolyze the α- 1,4‐glycosidic links in α-maltose and maltotriose, so disaccharides, trisaccharides, and other low-molecular-weight polysaccharides, especially those containing α-1,6‐glycosidic bonds are all in the final hydrolysate.

What are the Health Benefits?

It is confirmed by EU that carbohydrates benefits the maintenance of normal brain function. (4)

Specification

Appearance White powder
CAS number 9050-36-6
Chemical formula (C6H10O5)n
Molecular weight The DE value reflects the degree of starch hydrolysis and indicates the average molecular weight. As the degree of hydrolysis increases, each component moves in the direction of decreasing average molecular weight, while the DE value increases.
Taste Neutral or slightly sweet.

Properties

Glycemic Index

It has a high glycemic index ranges from 85-105. That’s to say, it will raise blood sugar rapidly and diabetics should be careful with it.

Calorie

Carbohydrate (except polyols) has a caloric value 17 kJ/g or 4 kcal/g. (5)

Solubility 

Compared with native starch, maltodextrin is free soluble or readily dispersible in water. The solubility gradually increases along with the DE value.

Structure

Composed of longer chains than glucose. 

What are the common Uses?

We can find a lot of food with maltodextrin as a bulking agent to add body and improve mouthfeel such as in baking and beverage; as a spray drying carrier to encapsulate the formulations of sweeteners, vitamins, minerals and flavors. Other functions including replace fat and reduce sugar. We can also find its applications in energy drink, infant nutrition, as well as in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry.

Food

Fat substitute

Low DE maltodextrin produces viscosity with emulsification and thickening effects. When the DE value is 3-5, it can produce the texture & taste of fat, and is often used as a carbohydrate-based fat substitute for salads, ice cream, sausages, etc.

Spray-dried Carrier 

Maltodextrin is ideal carrier for spray drying fruit & vegetable juice concentrates, oils, artificial sweeteners (such as in stevia and sucralose), gums to powder form with no additional flavor.

Sugar Reducer

Due to its neutral or slightly sweetness, it can be used as a bulking agent to increase the bulk-volume of food and reduce sweetness without affecting food original taste. Another three leading bulking agents used in food are polydextrose, inulin and resistant starch. They’re listed as carbohydrate instead of sugar in the nutrition label.

Bakery

It increases the viscosity in the premixes for bakery, and add body/mouthfeel to the finished products. 

Beverage

Function as a bulking agent and improve mouthfeel.

Baby Formula

  • Replace Lactose & Balance the sweetness: maltodextrin and lactose are two of the eight approved carbohydrates used in infant formulae by EU (6). Maltodextrin can be used as a substitute for lactose to provide energy as some babies are lactase deficiency. It can also balance the sweetness when used together with lactose. 
  • Beneficial to baby’s nutritional needs: it is easy to digest and provide energy like other carbohydrates, babies can feel satisfied for a long period as it releases energy slower than dextrose.

Beer Brewing

Maltodextrin is an almost non-fermentable polysaccharide used to add body and mouthfeel to a beer without changing the flavor of the beer. Also, it increases head foam retention in beer brewing. 

Confectionery

The cold-water solubility, nonhygroscopicity and low viscosity make it an ideal ingredient in the production of chewable formulas for children’s products, e.g. in candy.

Convenient Food

As a bulking agent and improve mouthfeel such as in instant sauces and dehydrated soups.

Supplement

Maltodextrin is a plant-based carbohydrate that provides energy like glucose that helps bodybuilders grow muscle faster and more effective. It is used in protein powder, vitamins, minerals and so on.

Sports drinks

Maltodextrin is a source of energy and can be used to replace sucrose or glucose in sport drinks to maintain a low osmolality which benefits sporters a gastric emptying rate and helps reduce gastrointestinal stress as well as enhance water absorption rate during physical exercise.

Dairy

It stabilizes ice cream and frozen yogurt by lowering the freezing point and inhibiting the formation of ice crystals. Also, it acts as a bulking agent to replace part of sucrose and improve the texture.

Cosmetics

Per the “European Commission database for information on cosmetic substances and ingredients”, it acts as an absorbent, binding, emulsion stabilising, film forming, hair conditioning, and skin conditioning agent in cosmetic and personal care products (7). It is a soluble, non-irritating and cheap personal care ingredients which can be commonly found in creams, lotions and hair care products.

Pharmaceutical

It functions as a diluent, binder, carbohydrate source or coating agent in the pharmaceutical industry. (8)

  • Binder/diluent in direct compression and wet and dry granulation
  • Diluent in capsule and tablet formulations
  • Carrier for spray dried active ingredients
  • Carbohydrate source for clinical nutrition

Is Maltodextrin Safe to eat?

Yes, the safety used as a food additive has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),  Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), as well as other authorities.

FDA

Safety

The FDA has deemed that the ingredient is GENERALLY RECOGNIZED AS SAFE (GRAS) used in food with no limitation other than current good manufacturing practice. (9

Uses

It can be used as an anticaking agent or free-flow agent, nutrient supplement, nutritive sweetener, stabilizer or thickener, and texturizer in food. (10)

What are the possible Side Effects?

It is common that sometimes consumers have questions whether maltodextrin is bad for our health and what are the possible side effects. It is generally considered safe but some people may be allergic to it and large amount dosage may cause some problems.

Allergy

It may trigger some allergy symptoms such as headaches, diarrhea, nausea, and other reactions to people who are allergic to it.

Large amount

The high intake of added carbohydrates (including maltodextrin) may lead to increased blood cholesterol & lipids, weight gain as well as blood impaired insulin sensitivity. (11)

Is it safe for pregnant?

Yes, it is generally safe but better consult your doctor in the condition of use.

Frequently Asked Questions of Maltodextrin

Is it Natural Or Artificial?

It is obtained from natural sources but does not naturally occur.

Is it Dairy Free?

Yes, it is dairy free and people who’re lactose intolerance or with milk allergy can eat the food with it.

Is it an Artificial Sweetener Or a Sugar Alcohol?

Neither.

Is it A Preservative?

Obviously it is not a preservative.

Is Maltodextrin And MSG The Same Thing?

No, MSG is also derived from starch but used as a flavor enhancer, totally different with maltodextrin.

Is it GMO Free?

Yes, commonly the plant sources are not from genetically modified organism.  

Is it Halal?

Yes, it is generally recognised as halal as it is permitted under the Islamic Law and fulfill the conditions of Halal. And we can find some manufacturers certificated with MUI halal.

Is it Kosher?

Yes, it is kosher pareve. It meets all the “kashruth” requirements and can be certified as kosher. 

Is it Vegan? 

Yes, it is vegan friendly as it produced from plant sources, and the manufacturing process without the use of animal matter or products derived from animal origin. So it is suitable to add in the diet of vegetarians.  

Is it Gluten Free? 

Yes, it is a common ingredient in both gluten-free and gluten-containing food labels. It is gluten-free if made from corn, tapioca, potato and rice which complies with the FDA’s definition of gluten free, that it does not contain wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains. And it is generally considered safe for people with celiac disease. 

Wheat maltodextrin is also confirmed gluten free by European Commission.  

Is it A Sugar?

No, it is not a sugar but a polysaccharide composed of D-glucose units combined in chains of various length.

What’s Resistant Maltodextrin?

It is also called resistant dextrin, which is a non-digestible carbohydrates (maltodextrin is a digestible carbohydrate and not a fiber) and FDA intends to propose it in the list of dietary fiber. It may the functions such as lower blood glucose/cholesterol levels/blood pressure and so on. (12)

Dextrose Vs Maltodextrin?

Both are starch hydrolyates and provide energy to our body but they’re different. 

  • Composition: dextrose is a pure product while the other is a mixture.
  • DE: dextrose has a DE of 100 while the DE of maltodextrin is less than 20. 
  • Function: Dextrose is used as a sweetener but maltodextrin is not, as a result, there uses are different.
  • Absorption: The absorption and the increasing rate of blood sugar of dextrose is faster than maltodextrin our body. 

Corn Maltodextrin VS Corn Syrup?

Both are corn starch degradation products. They’re similar as both are mixture of glucose, maltose and higher saccharides, but corn syrup is a liquid product (dehydrated form called dried glucose syrup) while maltodextrin is a common powder form. The DE value of corn syrup is more than 20, which means it is more sweet and maltodextrin can form corn syrup with further hydrolysis.   

What’s the differences between Maltodextrin and Dextrin?

Dextrin and maltodextrin are both incompletely hydrolyzed starch but with different manufacturing process. Dextrin is produced with chemical process by dry heating starches or dry heating process after the treatment of alkalis, acids, or pH control agents. (13) while maltodextrin is obtained from enzyme treatment.

Conclusion

Now I think you may have a knowledge of the bulking agent/carrier – maltodextrin, from the following aspects:

  • Dextrose Equivalent (DE), the important characteristics of maltodextrin that determines its composition, properties and uses
  • 5 plant sources – corn,tapioca, potato, rice and wheat and the manufacturing process
  • Health benefits
  • Uses
  • Safety and possible side effects
  • FAQs: is it gluten free, synthetic or natural, its comparison with corn syrup, dextrose, dextrin and resistant maltodextrin and so on.

What kinds of food packaging have you found this additive in? Let me know in the comments.

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