Starch's recent evolution reflects the clean-label movement-the versatile additive is used to impart viscosity, stability, creaminess, texture, binding properties, pleasant mouthfeel, and more to foods ranging from frozen baked goods to powdered instant puddings to bottled salad dressings.
In the food and drink industry, “clean” ingredient labels continue to increase in desirability and demand. Indeed, “with 65% of consumers in the Americas considering natural products as ‘better’ and 47% actively looking for natural products when making food purchase decisions,” stated Marc-Etienne Denis, commercial managing director at Beneo-Remy (Belgium) in a recent press release, “clean-label and natural claims are becoming ever more important in the creation of food products.”
The term clean as it relates to food and drink ingredients can refer to various characteristics, including non-GMO, not chemically modified, recognizable, simple, minimally processed, natural, or organic. It may also point to gluten-free and/or vegetarian. A clean label is not a term defined or explicitly regulated by FDA, USDA, or local agriculture departments, so its interpretation remains fairly loose. Nonetheless, a clean label is often considered ingredients that consumers recognize, are likely to keep in their kitchen cupboards, are pronounceable, and are not perceived as artificial or chemically altered. The term can also signal transparency or sustainability.
One such food and drink ingredient whose recent evolution reflects the clean-label movement is starch-the versatile additive used to impart viscosity, stability, creaminess, texture, binding properties, pleasant mouthfeel, and more to foods ranging from frozen baked goods to powdered instant puddings to bottled salad dressings.
What Is “Clean-Label Starch”?
In the case of starch, to be clean-label friendly means it must be free from chemical modification. For instance, “modified corn starch” on a product’s ingredient list is not considered “clean,” but “corn starch,” “rice starch,” “tapioca starch,” “potato starch,” or some blend of these (and others) is considered clean. Consumers perceive chemical modification as undesirable, so clean-label starches are either native starches or starch blends, which may or may not be heat or moisture controlled. Physically modified starch is “clean,” while chemically modified starch is not.
Current Clean-Label Offerings
Interest in clean labeling has existed for a couple of decades, but there has been a significant uptick in the past two years.
To meet customer demand for clean-label-friendly starch, Beneo-Remy, for instance, developed Remypure, a native rice starch that has been “functionalized through a specific process to increase its performance,” says Jon Peters, president, Beneo Inc. (Parsippany, NJ). The company’s proprietary “thermal-inhibition process,” Peters explains, is physical, not chemical, and enables the Remypure starch to be considered “native, natural, and clean-label, but with a level of performance that is comparable with chemically modified starches.”
Peters adds that this starch provides stability during a retail food product’s entire shelf life, as well as excellent freeze-thaw stability and a delicate texture, “while still having a very clean and pure taste,” he says. Adding to the starch’s perception of purity is the fact that rice is known to be hypoallergenic and easy to digest.
Cargill (Minneapolis) has also embraced clean-labeling requests and is actively marketing clean-label starch. SimPure, a line of functional native starches, includes “new blends of native starches from a variety of botanical sources,” explains Technical Services Manager Michelle Kozora. “Branding the portfolio as ‘SimPure’ helps our customers more easily identify” Cargill’s clean-label starches, she adds.
SimPure 99560, the line’s flagship starch, is a blend of native starches from different botanical sources that “matches the performance of [chemically] modified starches at a level unparalleled in the native-starch world,” she says. 99560 was designed specifically for culinary and convenience-product applications such as frozen meals.
Another supplier closely following and responding to the popularity of clean labeling is Ingredion (Westchester, IL). The firm introduced its Homecraft Create line of process-stable, clean-label-friendly waxy rice flours in June of this year and announced via press release this past summer that the products in this line will “help food manufacturers respond to consumer demand for smooth, silky textures in clean-label and gluten-free products.” Ingredion touts its Homecraft Create rice flours as “highly desirable” to customers interested in clean labeling and claims the flours “achieve the robust functionality, stability, and shelf life previously associated with the use of hydrocolloids, modified starches, and other ingredients not considered clean label.”
Ingredion also offers its Novation Prima 340 and 350 native functional corn starches. These physically-not chemically-modified starches can be identified on food labels simply as “corn starch,” yet possess “superior sheen, smoothness, process tolerance, and cold-temperature stability when compared to traditional pregelatinized native starches,” says Sharon Chittkusol, an Ingredion spokesperson and associate marketing manager for Wholesome Innovation.
The Novation line debuted a full 20 years ago, and the new Homecraft Create multi-functional rice and tapioca flours “represent the expansion of our broad clean and simple portfolio of functional clean-label texturizers, expanding into ‘flour’ labeling,” Chittkusol explains. Ingredion’s marketing studies have consistently shown that flours are generally recognized, trusted, and preferred by consumers, Angelina De Castro, Senior Marketing Manager, Wholesome Innovation, adds. This affinity for flour is related to its association with minimal processing, says Chittkusol. (Flours retain the original grain’s protein and some fiber, while starches do not.)
For Tate & Lyle (Hoffman Estates, IL), offering non-GMO clean-label starch ingredients has been a priority. Citing Innova data from 2016, Rachel Wickland, PhD, technical manager for global ingredient technology at Tate & Lyle, says that in the past three years, non-GMO product sales in the United States have grown by 270%. That same Innova data revealed that 73% of American consumers find it important to know and understand most ingredients listed on a product’s ingredient list, Wickland adds. “In response to this trend,” she explains, “Tate & Lyle recently introduced 17 non-GMO starches with the same functionality as their GMO counterparts to help customers create extraordinary food textures, all while delivering label-friendly options to consumers.”
The introduction was “part of an ongoing program of non-GMO ingredient expansions across Tate & Lyle texturants, fiber enrichment, and sugar- and calorie-reduction portfolios,” according to the press announcement of the launch. All the company’s non-GMO offerings are certified by third-party organizations SGS International and/or Eurofins, and the CLARIA line of functional clean-label starches relies on a proprietary processing technology that enables the starch granules to remain intact throughout various food-processing conditions, thereby providing “optimal thickening with the most pleasant texture,” Wickland says.
Ody Maningat, PhD, vice president of ingredients R&D and chief science officer at MGP Ingredients (Atchison, KS), notes that at his firm, “requests for non-GMO wheat starches are becoming a norm.” Non-GMO claims “are important for our North American and international customers who manufacture flour-based foods such as bakery, pasta, noodle, breakfast cereal, and various snack products,” he says.
Other clean-label attributes MGP Ingredients addresses through its product offerings include no chemical modification, certified organic, and sulfite-free. The company’s portfolio in the clean-label realm includes Midsol 50 native wheat starch and Pregel 10 native wheat starch. “These ingredients deliver a multitude of functional benefits across a wide array of food applications,” according to an MGP press release from 2016, “and they are Non-GMO Project Verified.” The starches provide moisture-control capabilities, desired texture and tenderness, smooth-film-forming properties, increased viscosity, improved binding, and “enhanced” product shelf life to baked goods, baking mixes, soups, sauces, and salad dressings.
Challenges to Making Clean-Label Starch Functional
Historically, starches have been chemically modified to increase their tolerance of and hardiness in harsh food-processing conditions; however, clean-label starches are, by definition, free from chemical modification. Suppliers have had to think creatively to produce starches that can withstand challenging processing conditions without chemical modification.
“In general, harsh food-processing conditions curtail the ability of ‘clean’ starches to exhibit their desired functionality in foods,” MGP Ingredients’ Maningat explains. He points to high-temperature processing (“retort” conditions), high-shear processing (those involving high-speed agitation or extrusion), low-pH/high-acidity processing (such as for fruit fillings and salad dressings), and frozen or refrigerated-frozen conditions (such as for fruit pies) as examples of processing types that pose challenges to “clean” starch.
“The most common procedure for imparting the desired functionality,” he says, “is physical modification of starch using heat-treatment technology.”
Kozora shares how Cargill approached the challenge of marketing a clean-label starch line that would meet customer expectations: “First, we invested in research and development,” she explains, “charging all of our teams to take a creative look at the botanical sources already available to us. For example, within our starch-development group, we’ve gone back to the basics, studying and quantifying all of the attributes of each individual starch in our portfolio.”
By gaining greater insight into the structure and unique properties of each starch, the company can learn how to get more performance from them, she says. “Second, we’re coupling that work with our extensive formulation expertise, partnering with our customers to rethink their recipes,” Kozora continues. “Now when we meet with customers, we define the specific textural attributes, functional characteristics, and processing requirements needed. Then, we compare those needs to the documented characteristics of our individual starches, enawbling our researchers to select the best attributes for a customer’s specific application.”
Cargill has worked with a customer to develop a clean-label and shelf-stable salad dressing formula, for instance, using a blend of native starches and pea protein.
Ingredion, says Chittkusol, sources specific varieties of rice and tapioca for its clean flours, mills those in its own facilities, then applies “a proprietary physical process” (likely related to moisture or temperature control) to prevent gelling, water release, and loss of viscosity in the finished retail food product. Meanwhile, Peters cites Remypure’s “new thermal production process, which is entirely natural,” for conferring high performance levels to its functional native rice starches.
Tate & Lyle’s CLARIA clean-starch line utilizes a proprietary processing technology (not chemical) that “enables starch granules to remain intact throughout different processing conditions. We can do this through a variety of methods,” explains Wickland. “Some are actually inhibiting the starch granule or controlling the degree of swelling. This essentially makes the starch granules more robust, strengthening them so they are less likely to break during various processing conditions. We can also tailor the degree of process tolerance to different applications.”