Growth in low pH beverages creates opportunity for pectin

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Lemon peels are one of the raw materials for pectin.  Cargill photo.
Lemon peels are one of the raw materials for pectin. Cargill photo.

Related tags Yoghurt

As palates in North America change and acidified foods become more acceptable, space is created, too, for additives such as pectin that can handle specific pH regimes.

One area where pectin has made a big splash is in the acidified dairy space,​  Jaime Underwood, technical services manager for hydrocolloids for Cargill, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Explosion of low pH dairy beverages

Acidified dairy beverages are becoming increasingly popular in the US.  Once a niche product, kefir has become a mainstream offering. Transparency Market Research anticipates a 5.9% CAGR for the global kefir market in the 2017-2025 time frame​.  Sales in Europe dominated the 2017 sales picture, with more than half of total sales, according to the group’s report released two days ago, but North America was the next biggest segment, at about 21% to 22% of overall sales.

Transparency puts the overall size of the global kefir market at $727 million in 2017.  Another data firm, Research and Markets, put out a kefir report last year that agrees with the near-term growth figure (they pegged it at 5.8% CAGR) and forecasted the overall market to hit $1.27 billion by 2021.

Underwood said she believes the popularity of Greek yogurt is what really broke the dairy aisle open for acidified beverages.

I think with the explosion of Greek Yogurt that really started the trend.  It opened the door in the US for more acidified, low pH beverages.  Everything was neutral and sweet until recently,​she said.

Now some of those lower pH dairy products are seen as particularly healthful.  You also see acidified protein added beverages that have a serving of fruits.  Some of them have added calcium or Vitamin D.  Some of them even have omega-3s and are making fiber claims or whole grain claims,​Underwood said.

One reason for that continuing popularity is that these beverages offer a convenient alternative to fluid milk, which has been declining as a beverage for years.  An expert from Arla Food Ingredients told FoodNavigator in 2015 that changing meal patterns accounts for some of this​;  with fewer meals eaten around the family dinner table at home, milk, which is often sold in gallon sized containers, is longer seen as convenient to drink.

More room for the star player at low pHs

All of that formulation innovation puts particular pressure on the texturizing elements of the mix.  A fermented product that is thin and watery could be seen as having gone ‘off,’ whether or not it was actually staring to break down.  Underwood said that pectin as an additive is particularly well suited for maintaing viscosity and the target mouth feel in these applications.

Where pectin really has the best functionality is at a very low pH, under 4.6.  Pectin sits almost alone in that space because most of the hydrocolloids lose their functionality over time at that pH. And pectin can protect dairy proteins, whereas otherwise if you put dairy into something like orange juice it would curdle,​Underwood said.

Pectin is a clean label product in that it is manufactured from citrus peels (Cargill uses a selection of orange, lemon and lime peels and also uses apple pomace as a raw material) via a fairly gentle process.  And it’s something that consumers understand, she said.

Carboxymethyl cellulose does a real good job in dairy drinks, too, but its an ugly thing on a label.  I dont like to use the term clean labelbecause it has no definition.  But I do use the term clear label,by which I mean that consumers understand the ingredients.  Consumers understand pectin, where it comes from and what its used for,​ Underwood said.

Fiber claims impractical

Underwood said pectins are graded by the number of functional methoxy groups that are attached to the hydrocarbon backbone, something the company can control in the production process, which amounts to grinding up the peels and placing them in a low pH solution achieved through the addition of a common acid such as citric acid.  There has been a lot of interest in functional carbohydrates as potential prebiotic ingredients in recent years, and pectin theoretically could function in that way, but it’s not practical at the moment, Underwood said.

I have had some customers who wanted to explore that, but pectin is so good at controlling water and forming a gel, that at the inclusion rates youd need for a fiber claim, youd end up with a gel brick,​Underwood said.