The texture of our food is important for the look and feel and also for digestion. Thickening and stabilising agents are gums that work with emulsifiers to maintain the texture of food, and create texture in water-based products that would otherwise be runny.
Ingredients such as flour, cornflour and arrowroot have been used for thickening sauces for years. In jam, pectin is used to thicken the fruit Juice. Pectin is naturally present in fruit, but many fruits don’t hold enough to make the jam set so extra is added.
Many thickeners are derived from plants and seaweeds. Others are made by the chemical modification of natural cellulose, and some, such as xanthan gum, are even made by fermentation.
Thickeners and stabilisers tend to be both odourless and tasteless. The majority of these polysaccharides have few or no calories, but many function as fibre in the digestive system. This eases bowel function, and some are used as bulk laxatives.
Most of these gums can form gels at room temperature, and (rather like non-drip paint) they lose their thickness when they are stirred. This makes mixing easier during the production process as they become runny, and then when the mixing stops, they thicken up again.
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