KEY INTERVIEW: Chicory Root Fiber’s Role in The Sugar Reduction Revolution

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27 Feb 2017 --- Chicory root fiber has been enjoying some attention within the nutrition industry over recent months. A general buzz around inulin’s nutritional benefits, combined with the continued rise of the reduced sugar trend among consumers, has left the ingredient in the spotlight. 

NutritionInsight caught up with Iwan Blankers, the CEO of Sensus, about how the company is focusing on the untapped potential of the ingredient, and what its plans are to drive the ingredient forward. With the company currently developing a sweet fiber powder with a higher sweetness due to its shorter texture fibers, we find out how this latest innovation is set to hone in on the reduced sugar trend.

Chicory Root Fiber for Sugar Reduction

As a manufacturer of inulin, Sensus are naturally on the pulse when it comes to the changing terrain of nutrition trends, constantly assessing how chicory root fiber can offer up to date consumer value.

Iwan Blankers tells NutritionInsight how dairy has always been a big area for the use of the soluble fiber, both in the European and North American markets, adding that the Asian infant formula powder market “is still a very big area for the use of inulin as a prebiotic fiber.”

However, going forward, he explains how the sugar reduction trend is presenting the company with increasing opportunities, something that it is keen to take full advantage of.

“Sugar reduction is a big trend for us, and it’s getting more and more attention,” he notes.

“If we look around and see what is on the agenda for food companies, I think sugar reduction is one of the bigger topics.”

He mentions how sugar consumption is linked with the “very high increase in type 2 diabetes” in both developed, western countries, and also in other continents like India and China, adding that, “the numbers are staggering.”

 “What leads to diabetes is sometimes a complex set of issues, but overweight and obesity is one of the factors in causing diabetes,” Blankers explains.

“Having a balanced lifestyle can help with calorie intake, and while many food components impact calorie intake, of course calories from sugar do a play a role in this.”

He explains how the chicory root fibers can present an interesting alternative to sugar, as they have a lower calorie density than carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrates and sugar have four calories per gram, whereas fibers are considered as two calories per gram, so that’s a significant 50 percent reduction,” he explains.

“As our products have a somewhat sweet taste,” he continues, “They can also be applied to products to mimic sugar in function in texture and also in taste.” He goes on to explain that the company, “predominantly sees the inulin chicory root fiber being used in baked goods, cereal products, and bars in the North American market.”

Innovating the Chicory Root for Higher Sweetness

With the sugar reduction trend high on their list of priorities, Blankers explains how Sensus have been innovating the chicory root fiber space to better cater for the sweetener market.

“After you extract inulin there are still insoluble fibers present in the root which we currently extract, but we try to market as a food ingredient,” Blankers says.

“But I’d say our bread and butter is really to modify and get different versions of the inulin range that is present in the chicory root. This will give texture and provide sweetness in the shorter chain of the fibers – this is our play at the moment.”

“One of the innovations that we are working on is to get a sweet fiber powder that has more sweetness because it has those shorter texture fibers.”

He adds, “Usually they come as a liquid but we are now working on a technology to get them as a powder.”

According to Blankers, this technology is in development, currently at commercial manufacture stage – “I am confident that we will have it on the market soon,” he adds.

Clean Label

Aside from the sugar reduction market, Blankers describes the trend towards clean label and shorter ingredient listing as a positive area of focus for Sensus.

“We are adopting an approach where we market this ingredient as chicory root fiber, so we are really trying to link the crop to the ingredients so it is as natural as it can be,” he says.

“Inulin is somewhat in the common name for different names used for this of fiber, such as oligo fructose, so we prefer to call it chicory root fiber, and we are also increasingly recommending our customers to adopt that name too.”

“Our aim is to have as many wholesome, natural ingredients on the label as possible. The way in which the fiber is extracted from the root is exactly how it is present in the crop. The naturalness is very appealing to the label, and to the consumer, evidently.”

Keeping Chicory Root Sustainable

On the subject of sustainability, Blankers confirms that it is “getting more and more important,” to the company.

“If you look at the bigger ingredients that are used in the food industry, such as sugar and palm oil, sustainability is really an important topic.”

“For smaller ingredients like chicory root fiber, we see that is has attention but not as much. However, what we are seeing is a growing awareness amongst our customers, and that puts sustainability high on the agenda for companies like Sensus.”

“The whole agricultural system is very sustainable because they have been growing crops on the same fields for 50 or 100 years, so in itself the system is very sustainable,” he notes.

“However, I think that our job is to create even more awareness than ever for products like chicory root fiber, sustainability wise.”

Blankers explains that Sensus has big targets on energy reduction, especially in terms of what it is doing in regarding its carbon footprint.

“Our crops are grown and manufactured with a sustainable footprint and we are going to tell this to the world as well.”

“Traceability and clean label is one of the bigger trends for natural products,” he says, “Which fits with our ingredient nicely, as it is straight from the root.”

Confectionary Key to Future Growth

“Looking back, we see great growth and use of chicory root fiber in cereal based products, for example, the breakfast category, which is very large in the US, and you see a lot of versatility yin applications and use in Europe too,” says Blanker.

“I think looking forward one of the areas that could provide potentially is confectionary.”

He notes that this, “of course this goes hand in hand with sugar reduction,” adding that, “people are looking for solutions that offer an alternative to sugar, and that bring down the sugar in recipes and formulations.”

“People still want a sweet taste, they just want it to be healthier,” he states.

“With confectionery one of the main reasons is indulgence, and it needs to be a treat that tastes good.”

“On the other hand you want balance, and you want to be able to consume foods that give a healthy feeling.”

By Hannah Gardiner

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