"Five years ago people weren't looking at pectin for diary and now they are," said Dr. Steve Bodicoat, marketing and innovations director for CP Kelco. Why? The answer to that question should come as no surprise: Money. The price of dairy proteins has exploded forcing food formulators to look elsewhere to achieve the same texture and other functional properties. According to DIN Consultancy, over the period February 2008 to March 2008, the per tonne price for skimmed milk powder (SMP), for example, rose by $400 (€255) to $3,400 (€2,171), while whole milk powder (WMP) was up $300 (€191) to $4,500 (€2,874). "Pectin can add functionality usually seen with dairy protein. It was previously not seen as economically viable to extend dairy protein, but that is changing," he Bodicoat. About five per cent of CP Kelco's pectin goes into dairy-based products, he said. "This is very small in relation to the whole dairy-based products industry, but for us it is a nice growing area." But Ralph Appel, business unit leader at Cargill Texturizing, cautioned that, while pectin can be used to replace milk proteins in dairy products like yogurt, by itself it only offers a partial solution. The full solution, he adds, can be achieved in combination with other gums such as starch or gelatine, which is where being the world's biggest agri-food firm comes in handy because Cargill can also provide these. Encapsulation potential Another area where pectin is seen as providing the potential to solve problems is encapsulation and delayed release of active ingredients. Many scientific studies have reported promising results for pectin to encapsulate a range of different ingredients. With the fear of commodification continuously looming, food manufacturers are turning to microencapsulation technologies as a way of achieving much-needed differentiation and enhancing product value. Changing consumer trends and tastes are primarily responsible for driving innovation in the microencapsulation market, says market analyst Frost & Sullivan. Since food manufacturers constantly monitor such trends, food ingredients companies are always looking for ways to meet these ever-changing demands, thereby promoting the need for novel microencapsulation technologies. Indeed, an alginate-pectin blend was considered as a delivery vehicle for folic acid - the micronutrient linked to a lower incidence of birth defects such as neural tube defects (Madziva et al. J. Microencapsul. 2005, Vol. 22, pp. 343-51). Researchers from Italy performed a 'preformulatory study' in 2001 investigating the potential of pectin to form micro spheres. Although focussed on the encapsulation of antibiotics, the study does suggests a potential for the encapsulation of nutraceuticals or probiotics (Esposito et al. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001, Vol. 944, pp. 160-79). More recently, a study by Stephan Drusch from the University of Kiel caused quite a stir amongst FoodNavigator readers when we reported on the potential of sugar beet pectin to be employed as a novel emulsifying wall component for microencapsulation of lipophilic food ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids. (Food Hydrocolloids, Vol. 21, pp. 1223-1228). Drusch reported that sugar beet pectin could provide an alternative to more traditional encapsulating agents like milk proteins and gum arabic. The higher cost of the sugar beet pectin compared to gum arabic does not necessarily make this technique unattractive to the food industry, said Drusch, since the low protein content of gum arabic means that higher quantities are normally used (between 15 and 25 per cent). "The low quantities necessary for emulsification lead to similar costs in use compared to other emulsifying wall constituents like gum arabic," said Drusch. Mexican and French researchers took marine oil encapsulation one step further, looking at the potential of pectin from linseed to encapsulate shark liver oil. The linseed pectin reportedly showed poor encapsulation activity on its own, but in combination with alginate it "may offer a new strategy to mask the strong flavor and odor of this material towards its utilization as a diet and health supplement," they said. (Food Hydrocolloids, 2004, Vol. 18, pp. 293-304) These last two studies tap into the use of pectin sourced from plant matter other than citrus and apple pomace. On Monday, FoodNavigator will investigate the potential of other plants to rival the dominance of citrus and apple for food.