Pectin, a soluble fiber best known as a gelling agent and widely used in jams, jellies, marmalade and fruit conserves, has quickly become an essential part of the global ingredient and dietary supplement markets. With novel sources and applications for nutraceuticals, functional foods, cosmetics, edible films and coatings as well as pharmaceuticals, pectin is a “must watch” ingredient for industrial use.
Traditionally sourced from apple pomace, a byproduct of the juice industry, today’s commercial market has migrated toward raw citrus peel as a major industrial pectin source. Common food applications include oil, egg and fat replacement in baked goods, glazes and fruit fillings, fruit and dairy-based beverages, gummy confectioneries, condiments and baby foods.
A naturally occurring long-chain polysaccharide, pectin is found in the cell walls of plants and works as an intercellular adhesive to hold plant cells together. The chemical structure of pectin varies according to its source. Although apple and citrus peel are the most traditional raw foods used for pectin extraction, researchers continue to test alternate sources and extraction methods to meet industrial needs.
Industrial pectin products are extracted from natural plant-based raw materials at low pH using an addition of mineral acid to create controlled acidity. The commercial products are subsequently dried and milled into a powder with the possible addition of sugar and/or dextrose to meet functionality standards. Liquid pectin is also sold commercially and is sometimes favored for its quick-action thickening abilities. However, specific functional properties, including stabilization and gel formation, depend on the source of raw materials as well as extraction and processing conditions.
Pectin occurs in fruit in more than one form, including: protopectin sourced from hard immature fruits such as green apples or the peel of citrus fruits; the soluble pectin from more mature fruit; and pectin acid derived from over-ripe fruit. Pectin is a carbohydrate whereas pectinase refers to any of the various enzymes that break down pectin. It is also known as a gelling agent because it creates bonds with water and with itself. It is one of the most versatile stabilizers available, making it an essential additive for a variety of applications. The FDA recognized pectin as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and allows it for use in all non-standardized foods.
Pectins are typically categorized into groups according to the degree of esterification and amidation. These include high methoxyl (HM) pectins and low methoxyl pectins (LM), which can gel at higher pH levels and have lower sugar requirements, making them suitable for low-calorie options. Amidated pectin (LMA), also considered to be a type of low methyl pectin, contains amides, which are compounds derived from ammonia. Pectin is also an emulsifying agent (i.e., it is soluble in both fat and water with the ability to be uniformly dispersed in water as an emulsion). As a stabilizer, pectin maintains emulsions in stable form. Stabilizing pectins are used for stabilizing acidic protein products such as yogurt, whey and soy drinks to protect the products from heat processing and support long shelf life.
Innovative Sources & Applications
Although the majority of industrial pectin applications are sourced from apple pomace and citrus peel, ongoing research has revealed a growing number of novel sources of pectin. These include soy and sunflower pectins as well as pectins derived from more exotic indigenous fruits and vegetables.
A study published this year in the Journal of Pharmaceutics reported the efficacy of cocoa pod husk pectin as a versatile pharmaceutical excipient, nutraceutical and antibacterial agent. Citing the growing interest in the use of plant-derived bioactive compounds such as citrus fruits, modified citrus pectin and apple pectin, the study noted that plant polysaccharides such as cocoa pectin are generally chemically stable, non-toxic, readily available, renewable and a rich source of macro and micronutrients. The study underscored the potential of cocoa pectin as a useful health promotion polymer.
Additional alternative pectin sources include sugar beets, mango, pumpkin and squash as well as lesser known sources such as jicama, cactus, tejocote pulp (native to Mexico—the fruit resembles a crabapple), passion fruit and prickly pear, with mango and jicama pulp offering the highest yields. Unripened sugar palm meat was also found to have high pectin yield potential. Banana skins, ambarella peel (native to Polynesia) and chickpea husks have also been explored as alternative sources of gelling material.
Extensive research on the applicability of soy pectin found this alternative to be less expensive than imported fruit pectins, however, soy carries high risks for GMOs. Novel pectins also offer potential applications for cosmetics, personal care products and pharmaceuticals.
Recognized as GRAS, vegan, non-allergenic and gluten-free, pectin has been widely adopted throughout the natural products industry. Many commercial forms have been standardized by adding dextrose and sugars to a constant grade of functionality. Manufacturers seek out pectin to ensure improved flavor release, increased mouth feel, delicate texture and controlled viscosity. In certain applications it is water binding and its textural functionality is better than other commonly used fibers. Used to improve pulp stability in juice-based drinks and acidic protein beverages, pectin also gives a good gel structure and “clean bite” to confectioneries and jellies. Pectin is virtually odorless, has a neutral pH and flavor and a high content of dietary fiber and oil release. The use of pectin results in improved yield and flavor release as well as longer shelf-life. Researchers suggest that adding pectin to emulsions may enhance nutraceutical performance and increase nutrient bioavailability.
Pectin is commonly used for milk drinks, soy drinks, whey products and yogurt drinks, stirred bottom-laid yogurts and instant drinks. Beverages can be enriched with dietary fiber without a major change in their viscosity. Citrus pectin products are used to create new and diversified flavor profiles with applications for seasonings, sauces and marinades. Other applications include nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, personal care products, disinfectants, room deodorizers and cleaning products.
Edible Packaging, Films & Coatings
New and exciting applications for pectins include edible films and coatings. According to Carol Zweep, manager of packaging and food labeling at Guelph Food Technology Center in Canada, edible films and coatings provide innovative, sustainable packaging. With emphasis on the importance of choosing edible films with acceptable color, odor, taste, flavor and texture, edible coatings protect products from oxygen, outside aroma, oil and moisture. In addition to adding vitamins, minerals, nutrients, flavors and food energy to products, edible coatings can also act as carriers for functional ingredients such as antioxidants and antimicrobials.
With widespread interest in the elimination of packaging waste, edible packaging offers a non-toxic, biodegradable option with potential to replace many commercial uses of plastics. Because pectin is known to be low-cost, economical, easy to source and renewable, it is a popular option. Edible films formulated from food wastes may effectively decrease environmental pollution while improving recyclability of packaging materials. Thus the use of edible films offers an excellent solution to problems associated with waste disposal and packaging materials.
Dietary Supplements & Health Benefits
Fresh fruits and vegetables are important for optimal health and a top choice for digestible fiber. As an alternative, apple fiber pectin and modified citrus pectin supplements and powders are an emerging market. Pectin is a rich source of nutrients and fiber used to promote effective elimination of food through the digestive tract. Although many manufacturers and consumers seek out pectin as a functional fiber, side benefits of pectin supplementation include reduction of cholesterol, balance of glucose levels, improvement in glycemic control for diabetics, reduction of blood pressure, support for cardiovascular health, cancer prevention as well as an overall improvement in gastrointestinal health including relief from diarrhea and constipation.
ProPectin, a product of VitaPro International in Bulgaria, was initially developed to combat the side effects of nuclear radiation contamination. Promoted as one of the highest quality, highly concentrated and most potent apple pectin supplements on the market, ProPectin contains 100% pharmaceutical-grade apple pectin “sourced from some of the highest quality apples in the world.” The product is cited as helping to decrease the level of dangerous radioactive material and heavy metal poisoning. When the pectin is absorbed it binds to harmful materials and assists in flushing them from the body. Research on ProPectin also found reduced cholesterol as well as beneficial effects for subjects with type 2 diabetes.
Other leading pectin supplement formulas include Solgar 100% Apple Pectin, Natural Factors Super Strength Rich Apple Pectin Concentrate with green tea extract in vegetarian capsules for intestinal cleansing and body detox, as well as Puritan’s Pride Grapefruit Pectin and Source Naturals Grapefruit Pectin Powder. Grapefruit pectin has been recommended to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease without altering diet or lifestyle. Country Life Acidophilus with Pectin in vegetarian capsules combines pectin and probiotics to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Recommended after prolonged use of antibiotics or extreme diarrhea when beneficial bacteria may have been significantly reduced, pectin as a prebiotic provides the nutrients needed to support healthy probiotic colonization of the gut.
The American Cancer Association recommends that adults eat five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day to reduce cancer risk. Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) may be ideal for those wishing to supplement citrus intake as a preventive health measure. By definition, MCP differs from conventional citrus pectin due to its molecular structure. Pectins can be modified to shorten the molecular chain, creating smaller polysaccharide fragments that are easily absorbed and utilized in the body.
Researchers have shown that cellular and cardiovascular health are adversely affected by elevated levels of galectin-3 and that maintaining healthy galactic-3 levels is important for wellness and longevity. MCP has been found to successfully bind and block excess galectin-3 and to chelate toxic heavy metals such as mercury and lead. Noteworthy products include EcoNugenics PectaSol-C promoted as the only clinically researched Modified Citrus Pectin known to support healthy cellular activity, boost immunity and promote healthy galectin-3 levels. Nutricology Modified Citrus Pectin Powder offers an additional MCP option.
Leading ingredient manufacturers in Europe and Asia including CP Kelco, Naturex, Cargill, Herbstreith & Fox, and Yantai Andre Pectin in China have continued to dominate the U.S. pectin market where distributors claim that domestic pectin products are unavailable. Sourcing from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Brazil, Mexico, China and India, pectin continues to be in high demand for the functional ingredients market. Smaller North American distributors include J.F. Hydrocolloids, Inc., Pacific Pectin and The Green Labs.
In December 2015, CP Kelco, a leader in hydrocolloid manufacturing and global pectin production announced the completion of its Brazil plant expansions and the company’s intention to boost pectin production to meet global demand. According to Susanne Sörgel, strategic platform director for CP Kelco’s pectin product line, the investment in production expansion shows the company’s “strong commitment to advancing pectin’s use as a high performance ingredient … both in developed economies and emerging markets.” The company continues to see “tremendous opportunity and growth for pectin in all global markets” due to increased consumer preference for nature-based, high-quality ingredients in their foods and products, she added.
Cargill, Minneapolis, MN, offers one of the widest ranges of commercially available pectin, utilizing state-of-the-art production processes. In August 2015, Cargill acquired FMC’s citrus pectin operations in Sicily, Italy with the intention of expanding pectin production to offer “label-friendly,” naturally sourced ingredients that can be easily recognized by the everyday consumer. Cargill’s pectin priorities include meeting consumer demand and introducing vegan gelatin replacements. Cargill’s Texturizing Solutions feature pectin both as a direct ingredient and as part of a functional blend.
Naturex, a global leader in specialty plant-based ingredients with head offices in France relies on pectin production from Obipektin in Switzerland and Pektowin in Poland. Specializing in apple and citrus pectins and known for innovative applications, I Drink, one of their newest offerings, supports the theme of “clean label, natural and healthy.” Promoting a natural boost to the immune system using echinacea, elderberry and goji, the product uses specific apple pectins to enhance mouth feel, giving more body and volume to the beverage.
Herbstreith & Fox in Germany, sometimes known as the pectin specialists, has been manufacturing pectin since 1934. With a worldwide distribution network, the manufacturer specializes in food, dietary supplement, pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications.
J.F. Hydrocolloids, Inc., a privately owned distribution company based in Illinois, offers a wide range of GMO-free citrus peel pectin and pectin fiber as part of its comprehensive selection of high quality natural hydrocolloids distributed to the North American food, beverage and non-food industries.
The Need for Organic Pectin
Production of certified organic pectin is needed to meet market demand. Nielsen’s 2015 Global Health and Wellness survey revealed that consumers want healthy foods and are willing to pay more for them. A majority are choosing whole, minimally processed, unadulterated foods—favoring real foods and ingredients as opposed to synthetic and artificial. Functional foods high in fiber (36%), protein (32%), whole grains (30%) or fortified with calcium (30%), vitamins (30%) or minerals (29%) that can reduce disease or promote good health also ranked high. Additionally, 77% of the consumers surveyed said that they want to eat healthier with a focus on beneficial ingredients. Vitamins, minerals, super foods and nutrient-rich foods ranked high as healthy food priorities, reflecting the growth in organic food sales to $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The Nielsen survey also pointed to consumer concerns about the origins of food and ingredient sources. Consumers want to avoid artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, sewage sludge and GMOs, as well as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Because current regulatory guidelines do not require that conventional products meet the same standards as certified organic, conventional and natural products may be at risk for these contaminants.
Despite the fact that the global pectin market has shown consistent growth with widespread use in all categories, lack of availability of certified organic pectin means a predominance of a non-organic ingredient in organic products. According to the International Pectin Producers Association, “organic raw materials are currently not available either in a quality or quantity that could be the basis for industrial production of commercial organic pectin products.”
In the U.S., the use of pectin in processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic” is subject to USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances features non-organic pectin on the list of “non-organically produced agricultural products allowed in organic foods.” However, according to the National Organic Standards Board, certified organic pectin must be used if available. This ruling has led to widespread organic industry use of “organic compliant” pectin (i.e., non-organic pectin that is non-amidated, non-GMO and free from radiation and sewage sludge). This ruling also suggests that any additional additives, such as dextrose sourced from corn and added sugar, must also be non-GMO and, ideally, certified organic if available.
One other concern for organic manufacturers and consumers is that pectin may act as a hidden non-organic ingredient in organic products in many categories. Pectin labeling does not always specify the source of the pectin or specify that the pectin is non-GMO. Pectin supplements score better in this regard due to clear labeling standards.
Today’s industrial pectin production offers a clean and elegant solution to address the environmental hazards of fruit waste, suggesting that effective utilization of fruit pomace has enormous potential for value-added functional ingredients and increased profit for manufacturers.
A study by the Association of Food Scientists and Technologists in Mysore, India revealed that only 1% of the apple pomace produced as a byproduct of the juice industry is currently being utilized. Although agro-industrial wastes are mainly composed of complex polysaccharides that serve as nutrients for microbial growth and production of enzymes, fruit waste, and specifically apple pomace, can be converted into edible products because the pomace is a rich source of carbohydrates, crude fiber, minerals and other nutrients. Conversely, non-utilization of fruit waste causes environmental hazards, acute air pollution, contamination of ground water and destruction of aquatic life.
Pectin production continues to offer expanding market opportunities. Novel sources, new applications as well as certified organic pectin production suggest a potential niche market that addresses consumer demand for health promoting foods, supply chain transparency and accurate labeling. Sustainable solutions to the problem of food waste may also be market drivers. For manufacturers looking for a profitable, innovative and sustainable ingredient portfolio and sustainable business strategy, fruit pectin, including certified organic, may be the future trend for sustainable functional fiber.
Simi Summer, PhD, is an independent researcher, educator and freelance writer.