Food & Beverage - Europe, Middle East, Africa

The development of high quality foods to support health, convenience and well-being is a continuous process of improvement and creativity. A quality lifestyle is a priority for many consumers. On one side consumers look for good health and weight control. On the other lies the lure of the biscuit aisle and the calorie-rich desserts and sauces.

Cargill’s polyols have become essential ingredients in a wide range of food applications, both for their functional, sensorial as well as nutritional properties. They offer flexibility of functionality, while ensuring controllability and consistent final performance.

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, are polyhydric alcohols produced by hydrogenation or fermentation of different carbohydrates. Chemically, polyols are derived from mono- and disaccharides.

Most polyols occur naturally in a variety of food products like vegetables, fruits and mushrooms. They are also regularly present in fermented foods like wine or soy sauces. Polyols are therefore a normal constituent of the human diet.

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Nutritional aspects

The behavior of polyols, and other carbohydrates, in the human digestive system varies depending on their molecular size and chemical nature.

The simple monosaccharides are directly absorbed through the cell layer of the intestine. Their rate of absorption depends upon active and passive uptake. Glucose for instance is actively, and therefore rapidly, and completely absorbed. In its subsequent metabolism it contributes an energy value of 4 kcal/g.

Disaccharides first need to be hydrolyzed by the intestinal enzymatic systems before they can be absorbed.

Polysaccharides such as starch due to their complex, often branched, structures are only absorbed to the extent the digestive enzymatic system is capable of liberating the essential monosaccharide building blocks.

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Absorbed monosaccharides are transported in the body and are oxidized to CO2 to provide energy or are metabolized to other substances such as glycogen or fats for energy storage. The remaining undegraded polysaccharide structures are then subjected to microbial fermentation in the large intestine where the resulting production and subsequent absorption of volatile fatty acids may contribute additional energy. At this stage gases such as methane (CH4) and hydrogen (H2) are also produced. Any undigested carbohydrate is excreted with the microbial biomass in the faeces.

Sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol, the monosaccharide polyols, can be directly absorbed while maltitol and isomalt, the disaccharide polyols, first need to be hydrolyzed to their sorbitol, mannitol and glucose building blocks before absorption is possible. The cells in the digestive system cannot actively transport polyols through the cell membrane. Polyols are therefore absorbed by a passive diffusion (osmotic) which is much slower and incomplete than the active transport. The absorbed part, in its subsequent metabolism, contributes an energy value of 4 kcal/g, as for glucose. However, erythritol is not metabolized and therefore hardly contributes any energy. The major, not absorbed part of the monosaccharide polyols, is fermented by the microflora in the large intestine to give volatile fatty acids. This fermentation contributes an energy value of 2 kcal/g.

Nutritional properties

Compared to most traditional sugars that are rapidly digested and absorbed, many polyols are absorbed relatively slowly and not  completely. Thus a fraction of the polyols ingested will enter the colon, where they will become a welcome food for bacterial fermentation. Unabsorbed polyols may cause some osmotic effects. Therefore it is advised that the intake of polyols should not exceed levels that have been shown to cause laxative effects. The individual tolerance level is influenced by the type of polyol and meal consumed as well as the regularity of consumption. Erythritol has exceptional properties in this respect, since it is almost entirely absorbed, having less osmotic effects. Accordingly its tolerance level is highest of the polyols.

Calories

Since polyols are not completely absorbed, the caloric value is lower than that of normal sugars. According to the EC Nutrition and Labeling Directive, a caloric value of 2.4 Kcal/g has been defined for the EU countries (compared to 4.0 Kcal/g for normal sugars).

Erythritol has a very low caloric content: its value is 0 Kcal/g for food labeling purposes in the European Union (with full direct legal effect in all 27 EU member states from 31 October 2009).

Diabetes

The degree of absorption and metabolisation is different for each polyol, exerting thus a different impact on raising the blood glucose level. In contrast, erythritol ingestion does not lead to a glycaemic response at all.  Thus, depending on the polyol selected to replace sugars, it is possible to reduce the glycaemic effects of foods and drinks to a substantial degree. The latter may be of benefit to overweight and diabetic individuals.

Colonic food

The fermentation of polyols takes place in the lower part of the gut, especially the colon. As a result of the fermentation process by the gut fl ora, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are being produced. These SCFA have bioactive effects on the gut acidity and digestive functions.

Chemistry

Most polyols occur naturally in a variety of food products like vegetables, fruits and mushrooms. They are also regularly present in fermented foods like wine or soy sauces. These polyols are therefore already a constituent of the human diet.

Polyols or sugar alcohols are polyhydric alcohols produced by hydrogenation or fermentation of different carbohydrates. The typical pathway is isolation of starch from the cereal followed by enzymatic conversion to the proper saccharides which are then hydrogenated in the presence of catalysts to convert the aldehyde and ketone groups into alcohol functions. As a consequence, the chemical structure is made linear, the chemical stability is improved and the tendency to undergo Maillard reactions (browning) is substantially reduced. It also modifies several physicochemical properties such as solubility, viscosity, hygroscopicity and boiling temperature which all contribute to the differences in behavior between polyols.

Production

Although most polyols are present in nature, e.g., in fruits and vegetables, their extraction is not a viable production method. For the majority of polyols, cereals, as wheat and maize, are the main raw materials. Also sugar (sucrose) and xylose derived from corn cobs, almond shells and birch bark have become a source for production of isomalt and xylitol respectively.

The typical pathway is isolation of starch from the cereal followed by enzymatic conversion to the proper saccharides which are the hydrogenated in the presence of catalysts to convert the aldehyde and ketone groups into alcohol functions.

As a consequence, the chemical structure is made linear, the chemical stability is improved and the tendency to undergo Maillard reactions (browning) is substantially reduced. It also modifies several physicochemical properties such as solubility, viscosity, hygroscopicity and boiling temperature which all contributes to the differences in behavior between polyols.

Legislation

In the EU, polyols are permitted in most foods by the European Sweeteners and Miscellaneous Additives Directive, under quantum satis conditions of use.

In Europe, the label of foods containing more than 10 percent dry weight of polyols must include the particular “Excessive consumption may cause laxative effects”.

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Available products

Cargill is a full line of polyols or sugar substitute supplier. Polyols can be used to strike a balance between good health & the allure of sweet foods.

Some Cargill products are only approved for use in certain geographies, end uses, and/or at certain usage levels. It is the customer's responsibility to determine, for a particular geography, that (i) the Cargill product, its use and usage levels, (ii) the customer's product and its use, and (iii) any claims made about the customer's product, all comply with applicable laws and regulations.