WEST HAVEN, Conn. -- For brand marketers looking for a point of differentiation, the healthful connotations of fiber can give a product added appeal.
In the past, adding fiber often reduced the product quality and presented a technological challenge. UltraCel, a modified wheat fiber developed by Watson Foods Co. here, offers more than just enhanced label claims.
Lynne Sweet, Watson's manager of product development for specialty ingredients, said this fiber ingredient can act as part of a fat replacement system, control water, produce viscosity and texture and stabilize liquids.
"There are a number of commercial applications for UltraCel," said Sweet. "One of the most recent is in icings. It allows you to replace about 75% of the fat, and one company is looking at it in a fat-free icing as well."
It can replace gums in some formulations, he added. "We've used it in a number of cultured dairy products as both a viscosifier and a fat replacer. It replaces fat in some baked products, including muffins. We've had great success with tortillas -- we've been able to go from low-fat to fat-free."
In fruit or protein-based beverages, UltraCel acts as a thickener and stabilizing agent. It helps to keep solid particulates, like cocoa or pulp, and insoluble minerals, like calcium, suspended in the liquid. When used at recommended levels (generally from 1 - 2 %), it does not create a gritty mouthfeel.
First introduced in 1994, it has already found its way into commercial products in a wide range of categories, including dairy products, beverages, salad dressings, peanut butter, mayonnaise and beverages.
"The multifunctional nature of this ingredient distinguishes it from other stabilizers and fat replacers currently available," said Audra Davies, eastern regional manager, nutritional products, at Watson Foods.
UltraCel contains 70% insoluble fiber by weight. Insoluble fiber has been linked to decreases in certain types of cancer, especially cancer of the colon.
"We are seeing a lot of development activity in the area of fiber fortification of consumer products," said Davies. "The media play has gone down, but the consumer interest is there. The food industry is being a little more conservative in how they play up some of these ingredients -- they got burned with oat bran publicity."
It works synergistically with certain gums, according to the manufacturer. Depending on the application, it can hold up to 25 times its weight in water. UltraCel is also stable in the presence of high temperatures, high salt, extremes of pH and freeze/ thaw conditions.
Equipment requirements for addition are minimal. For example, a standard homogenization process adequately disperses it in a beverage product.