A growing body of science is reporting the potential health benefits of pectin, including a potential prebiotic effect, an important fibre content, and potential cardiovascular benefits by lowering LDL cholesterol. As health and wellness permeates into all areas of the food industry, regulatory bodies are becoming more severe in their demands relating to 'good for you' ingredients, so pectin producers have remained reticent about embarking on the trail of a health claim. Pectin is currently widely used as gelling agents in jams, confectionary, and bakery fillings, and stabilisers in yoghurts and milk drinks. Before pectin producers, or other hydrocolloid suppliers in general, embark down the path of branding their ingredients as health ingredients, Dr Esther Hunter from CPL Business Consultants has a word of caution: "If hydrocolloid companies wish to participate in the health ingredient market, they need to be clear about the fact that such opportunities require significant effort and are not risk-free," she said. Pierre Perez, product director of food gums for CP Kelco, asked the key question: "How solid the claims are and if they are not solid enough what needs to be done? This might require randomised clinical trials, and may engage large amounts of resources and funds. "These need to be surveyed and analysed before anyone engages in claims," he added. Spain's Obipektin, a division of Natraceutical, has positioned its highly methoxylated apple pectin (HMAP) as a health ingredient, and a team of representatives from Natraceutical said the company had a different way of looking at the situation, placing the emphasis on the food manufacturer and not the ingredient supplier. "The legislation regarding health claims is stricter every year. So, in our opinion, it should be the manufacturer who has to be sure before they add a health claim to their product," they said. Putting the emphasis on the manufacturer and not the ingredients supplier is what happens in the US, said Dennis Seisun from IMR International, a consultancy that publishes the Quarterly Review of Food Hydrocolloids. Ace up the sleeve These obstacles, which are both scientific and economical, will ensure that the bulk of the pectin market will be as a gelling agent and stabiliser, rather than health, for the "foreseeable future," said Seisun. But pectin has an inherent benefit over other hydrocolloids: "Pectin has the most powerful image on a label, and that is a fabulous advantage," he added. This value of pectin should not be ignored because consumers do refer to labels when buying food products. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) runs annual surveys into consumer attitudes. There was no real change in the frequency of consumers referring to labelling information between 2000 and 2006, with over 50 per cent of consumers always or usually referring to labels. Casting their keen eyes over information about ingredients is second only to gleaning nutritional information, a statistic that shows the importance of 'friendly' ingredients on the label. Not all hydrocolloids have such a powerful image on the label, however, with those with 'consumer-scary' chemical names like carboxymenthyl cellulose (CMC), hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC), and microcrystalline cellulose being renamed cellulose gum, carbohydrate gum, and cellulose gel, respectively. But pectin on the label reminds people of Grandma making jam - a wholesome, natural image. Ralph Appel, the business unit leader at Cargill Texturizing concurred: "With the growing demand for clean label products, manufacturers can use pectin knowing that consumers feel comfortable with a product that has been used for many years in home jam-making," he said. Tomorrow, FoodNavigator will look at the potential of pectin to offer formulation solutions when targeting the health and wellness trend.