Starches play a variety of roles in the confections we make and eat every day. They can be found as the sole gelling agent in jelly-type candy, a complementary gelling agent in gummies and fruit snacks, a moulding medium, a texture modifier in chewy candy, a film-former in pan-coated treats, and an external dusting agent for marshmallows.

As consumers continue to demand cleaner labels, suppliers have been driven to produce more starches that will allow confectionery products to be labeled as such. And manufacturers seeking to improve production efficiencies have also led to innovations in starches.

“Clean label formulation presents manufacturers with both a challenge and an opportunity,” says Kevin Bael, product manager, specialty rice ingredients, BENEO. It’s not always easy to use native, unmodified starches in place of traditionally-used, acid-thinned starches. “If manufacturers can balance the technological issues to create cleaner label, taste, and textured foods, the market potential for such products is immense.”

BENEO’s new rice starch, Remypure, is the company’s first high-performance rice starch that qualifies for natural and clean label status. It has demonstrated high stability during processing, performing well under harsh conditions such as low pH, high temperature or high shear. It’s a healthy alternative to titanium dioxide, allowing the reduction of saturated fatty content and, in confectionery coatings, drying time.

Rice starches also bring a high level of whiteness to many kinds of confectionery coatings and convey creamy texture and mouthfeel in fat-reduced fillings, says Bael.

It’s a promising new option for manufacturers but the use of native, unmodified starches presents its own range of challenges.

As the industry currently stands, jelly and gummy candies use acid-thinned starches almost exclusively because they allow for a low hot viscosity at the high-solids levels, which is needed to form a strong starch gel, according to “The Use of Starch-Based Products in Confectionery Applications,” a white paper written by Joe Eisley, project leader, technical services, Ingredion Inc.

Acid-thinned starch granules are treated with acid in their uncooked state to lower the molecular weight of the amylose and amylopectin backbones within the granules. This becomes critical in the jelly gum processing phase because it allows the concentrated high-starch, high-sugar solution to be cooked quickly and efficiently without difficulties in pumping and mould deposition.

“Native starches will typically thicken upon heating, causing issues with depositing,” says Michelle Kozora, technical services manager, Cargill Texturizing Solutions. “Achieving low hot viscosity from native starch is quite challenging without using another gelling agent such as pectin, so much of our recent work involves leveraging our broad portfolio to combine ingredients, like pectin and pea protein, to achieve label-friendly solutions in the jelly confectionery space.”

But these alternative ingredients can take a lot of development time to achieve a product similar to a modified starch solution, she says.

As the starch industry has evolved, hybrid technology has been the real leading driver behind the development of new starches for confectionery applications.

“Candy manufacturers utilizing conventional [acid-thinned] starches for jelly-type confectionery have always looked for ways to increase production rates, and they’ve found success by capitalizing on hybrid technology” says Jackie LaFleur, technologist, technical services, Ingredion Inc.

Manufacturers are now using combinations of traditional acid-thinned corn, wheat, and potato starches and new, unique hybrid corn starches that are high in amylose. This allows them to take advantage of the low hot viscosity of the acid-thinned starches as well as the stronger and faster gelling of the high amylose corn starches. The combination of these qualities have helped speed up production.

In other areas of starch development, work is also being done to replace gelling agents like gelatin as manufacturers are turning to starch and pectin as alternative gelling agents for both cost-savings and labeling purposes.

“Gelatin comes from animal sources, a fact that has some of our customers looking for alternatives,” says Kozora. “Starches offer those customers a plant-based option.”

Currently, specialty potato starches offer the highest clarity and elasticity compared to other starches and are the go-to products of choice when trying to match gelatin-like properties, says LaFleur. They provide manufacturers with a way to cut costs while developing a gelatin replacer that could create gummy products for vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and halal consumers who don’t eat gelatin.

As far as the future goes, many jelly candy manufacturers are likely to keep using traditional acid-thinned and high-amylose-corn-based starches for their products. These starches not only work well in their established processes, but also form and provide textures that consumers already know and love.

But work will continue to be done in an effort to expand the applications of unmodified, natural starches that can be used to create products with cleaner labels.

“As in any other food and beverage applications, consumer demand for simpler ingredient statements is extending to confectionery products, too,” says Wen Shieh, technical leader for fruit, beverage and confections, Cargill Texturizing Solutions. “To address this market segment, we see more customers using label-friendly ingredients such as pectin, as they try to use gelatin-free or reduced-gelatin formulations for gummy applications.”