In The Know About Inulin
Given its health, texture and taste benefits, the inulin market is understandably booming. Read more from Bob Wills, Director of Sales for Food, Beverage and Nutrition for the Market Acceleration Group. This piece was first published in Food & Beverage Insider in January of 2023.
Are you interested in including more fiber in your products without ruining the taste or texture? Fiber allows the body to regulate sugar use, controlling blood sugar and hunger levels with soluble fiber promoting lower glucose and cholesterol levels and insoluble fiber promoting a healthy digestive system and regular bowel movements. Not only is fiber good for maintaining healthy bodily functions, but it also might reduce the risk of intestinal disease, heart disease, diabetes, digestive complications and breast cancer .
Fiber is a crucial part of a healthy diet and to help with fiber absorption, inulin is available as a fat or sugar alternative that does not interfere with fiber intake. Inulin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate known as a fructan found in vegetables and fruits .
Origins of Inulin
Inulin is considered a normal part of the human diet, as it is naturally found in artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic and chicory. In fact, inulin naturally occurs in 36,000 species of plants . Humans have safely and regularly consumed inulin since the days of hunting and gathering. With a mostly plant-based diet, some early humans consumed far more inulin than modern humans at roughly 135 grams a day .
Inulin occurs in its most concentrated state in the Chicory plant’s roots. Chicory’s reliably high inulin content from year to year makes it a popular source of inulin, which is extracted from the chicory roots for industrial purposes .
Benefits of Inulin
Inulin is an obvious choice for food distributors looking for a sugar and fat replacement ingredient that enhances fiber, retains moisture and stabilizes food textures. Additionally, inulin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by a panel of experts in the U.S and has low potential for health risks . Inulin consumption also enhances the absorption of minerals and stimulates the immune system .
This ingredient is used as a prebiotic ingredient, meaning that it stimulates the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria while restricting the growth of harmful bacteria . The human gut has anywhere from 15,000 and 36,000 species of bacteria at any given moment. Inulin increases gut health and promotes healthy bacterial growth, specifically the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli species . These helpful bacteria allow the human body to fight off pathogens, stimulate immune responses and aid healthy digestion.
Inulin has exceptional organoleptic quality, meaning that it enhances the sensory experience of food, including the texture, odor, smell and taste, without adding any flavor into the food product .
On average, Americans do not eat the recommended daily amount of fiber . As an ideal solution to address nutritional deficiencies in the American diet, inulin possesses different fiber characteristics, possibly contributing to a diet with well-rounded sources of fiber.
The benefits don’t stop there. High-fiber diets have been shown to significantly decrease the likelihood of colon cancers. According to a highly-regarded study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, elevated total dietary fiber intake was associated with a “significantly reduced risk” of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer. (8). Acting as a source of fiber, consistent consumption of inulin contributes to a healthy colon.
Inulin as a Fat Replacement
Bonds linking fructose molecules in inulin prevent digestion by intestinal enzymes, meaning that inulin passes through the digestive tract without being metabolized (6). The calories, therefore, are not digested, making this ingredient an optimal option for low-calorie foods. Inulin allows low-fat food to still taste and feel like foods with their original fat levels because it increases stability and preserves the emulsion of the food product. A small amount of inulin added to low-fat dairy products improves the flavor and texture (6). Researchers found that these products are suitable for consumption by diabetics and can benefit diabetic patients in high doses .
Another unique characteristic of inulin is its ability to mimic fat in food products. When combined with a liquid such as water, inulin forms a gel-like substance that replicates the fatty mouthfeel of real fat in foods and ingredients . Plus, it maintains its melting and freezing properties. This allows for easy substitution of fat in foods. For those consumers wanting to stick to a low-fat diet, butter, cream cheese, processed cheese and more don’t have to be off the table. Inulin creates impressive low-fat food alternatives that maintain the taste and feel of their original counterparts.
A “high performance“ (HP) type of inulin has recently been introduced to the market, making low-fat options even more viable. HP inulin provides almost twice the fat mimicking characteristics compared to other types of inulin while adding no sweetening aftertaste .
Considering the Risks
Inulin has been found safe by a multitude of studies. Side effects like bloating and flatulence may occur at high doses, but these concerns are applicable when fiber of any kind is consumed quickly or in large quantities .
Inulin and oligofructose are gaining gradual acceptance as ‘‘dietary fibers’’, and the mention of their ‘‘bifidogenic effect’’ has become commonplace and legal in many countries .
The State of Inulin Market
In North America in 2021, the inulin market’s estimated value was $285 million  with the U.S. accounting for over 80% of the market. The global inulin market is estimated at around one billion dollars . With the increasing demand for inulin in the pharmaceutical industry, rising consumption of sports nutrition and nutraceutical products, a desire for naturally derived products and high consumption of inulin as a fat replacer, word about inulin is spreading fast and the market reflects these trends . As people recognize the value in inulin, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the market is thriving.
The Time Is Now
The options for formulating with inulin are essentially endless. With its fat-mimicking capabilities, inulin provides healthier options for those who want or need to consume less fat with little to no adverse side effects. Studies have shown the safety and reliability of consuming inulin, and we know that hunter-gatherers consumed it in far greater quantities than we do today. Inulin can help prevent colon cancer, boost immune systems and control blood sugar levels. Given its health, texture and taste benefits, the inulin market is understandably booming. If you’re interested in formulating with inulin—don’t wait.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, October 28). Fiber. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/#:~:text=Fiber%20helps%20regulate%20the%20body%27s,%2C%20whole%20grains%2C%20and%20beans
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