What’s cooking in gelled confectionery?

Texture is one of the most important aspects of any confectionery product and this is especially the case when it comes to gelled confectionery. Texture represents the very basis for identifying product types and is a significant factor behind the consumer’s experience of the finished product. Gelling agents are used to create texture in water-based products that would otherwise be runny. This is achieved by linking in a gelling phase to form a gelled product such as gummies or marshmallows. A wide variety of hydrocolloids, for example, pectin, starches or – by far the most popular – gelatin, are available as gelling agents for confectionery production.

Green, clean and lean

Natural is a major trend in both food and drink nowadays, and this trend also applies to confectionery. Covering everything from raw food or paleo diets to detox cures and cleansing, ‘pure’ nutrition is now considered more sacred than ever before. Consumers have become increasingly aware of ingredient lists and nutritional information, which has resulted in them actively scanning product packaging and comparing similar products.

This leads us to question which product will win the heart of the ‘natural’ consumer. Invariably, it would appear to be the product with the clearest claims, but also the most comprehensible ingredient list. However, featuring the most comprehensible label is no longer sufficient. Following ‘clean label’, the ‘lean label’ trend is now quickly catching on. Gone are the days of endless ingredient lists; producers instead now opt for multifunctional ingredients in order to reduce the number of ingredients on the packaging.

Confectionery producers have been quick to catch on to this ‘natural’ trend. E-numbers are often banned from product formulations as producers are constantly on the lookout for ‘natural’ colours, flavours and gelling agents. Given it is a traditional cupboard ingredient and being neither synthetic nor modified chemically, gelatin is recognised as a clean and clear label gelling agent: it is the only gelling agent with no E-numbers and has retained its dominant position in the gelled confectionery market. Some gums and gelling agents (although having E-numbers) as well as native starches should also be able to stand their ground and together with gelatin take over from less ‘natural’ gelling.

Textures and flavours abound

Confectionery continues to be very much driven by the indulgence factor. Producers are constantly searching for new textures and flavours that will both excite and surprise demanding consumers. Claims such as velvety, chewy, melted, soft or liquid are used to differentiate products, in combination with ever more exotic flavours. This impacts gelling agents in two ways: firstly, gelling agents play an increasingly important role in creating the enhanced textural characteristics to align to the trends. Careful selection of the right gelling agent is paramount to achieve the desired texture. Secondly, the addition of certain flavours can indirectly impact the pH and other characteristics of the product, which in turn can have a major influence on the gelling mechanism of gelling agents.

 Healthy confectionery

Driven by indulgence, confectionery is not a food group that is typically linked to ‘healthy’ snacking. Many products are perfect because of the sugars present in their formulas. But the arrival of the so-called sugar taxes has put increasing pressure on confectionery producers as they fear being the next target. In response, the ‘better for you confectionery’ niche segment is on the rise. Some good sugar free or reduced sugar products can be found, although on occasions they go against the clean label and simple ingredient trends. In this respect, natural intense sweeteners are gaining ground, despite it being a technological challenge to formulate confectionery without sugar while simultaneously retaining the quality, texture and shelf life.

However, ‘better for you’ confectionery goes beyond taking out the bad stuff. Fortified confectionery is now a fast growing market that uses confectionery as a medium to deliver beneficial nutrients. Typical examples include vitamin gummies – which target children in particular – in addition to beauty gummies or sports gummies with added protein.

The variety of techniques to introduce the functional ingredients is a key factor for success. It is vital the selected gelling agents work well in a formulation with the fortification ingredients. However, the gelling agents themselves – such as gelatin and its derivatives (collagen peptides) – can help to produce confectionery products by providing proteins, beauty advantages or reducing carbohydrates.

 Achieving the best of both worlds

A common thread in all of these trends is the rising challenge for gelling agents to work in ever-changing formulations, together with new ingredients. Focusing on better performance, cost reduction and productivity optimisation will only add to the complexity of choosing the right gelling agent for a given confectionery application.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that more and more confectionery players turn to blends of gelling agents to ensure they achieve the desired properties. Now a common practice, especially when the objective is thermal stability and softer, or novelty textures, gelatin and pectin blends have become a popular combination in gummy production, especially in hot regions. The gummies made with such blends have a distinctive texture, are smaller and softer, and the excellent thermal stability guarantees the shelf life performance in high temperatures.

As our eating and drinking habits are continually changing so too is the gelled confectionery industry. Challenging times lie ahead and new applications, blends and combinations are waiting around the corner to be discovered.

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