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Cargill soluble fiber nears commercialization; big potential for kids’ products

By Maggie Hennessy , 26-Aug-2014
Last updated on 26-Aug-2014 at 15:19 GMT

Just over a year on from Cargill’s purchase of soluble wheat bran extract from health and nutrition firm Fugeia, the supplier is edging closer to commercializing the soluble dietary fiber and powerful antioxidant, as consumers worldwide (and at all ages) continue to fall short on fiber needs.

The proprietary method for extracting and purifying the fiber and antioxidant source of wheat bran results in a neutral-tasting product rich in arabinoxylan-oligosaccharides (AXOS), which has shown a prebiotic effect in clinical trials among healthy adults and preadolescents. The solubility of wheat bran extract and its specific health benefits give it a unique positioning in a market that’s “already crowded with fibers,” Douwina Bosscher, leader nutritional sciences, Cargill Global Food Research, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“There has been tendency over past years to lower the fiber content of foods and now this is shifting with more and more fiber enriched foods and beverages coming on the market to help close the fiber gap,” Bosscher said. “Soluble fibers especially can have an important role in closing that gap, though they’re still restricted to certain food categories. Cargill identified the potential of these fibers which taste neutral and behave suitably in different applications.”

While most people are “more than aware” of the benefits of adequate fiber intake—among them improved digestion, cardiovascular health, weight management and glucose management—fewer than one in 10 Americans reach their daily recommended intake levels, Helga Laporte, Cargill’s product marketing and business development manager of proteins, fibers and lipids, told us.

“The majority of Americans consume half of their recommended intake on average—14 to 15 g per day. That includes children; fiber deficiency starts at a very young age,” she said.

Prebiotic benefit in children at low doses

Aside from the gastrointestinal benefits of this AXOS-rich fiber, soluble wheat bran extract has demonstrated prebiotic efficacy at low inclusion levels in four double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, one involving children.

“We do see this prebiotic effect confirmed in preadolescents who were given just 5 grams a day of the wheat bran extract,” Bosscher noted. “This indicates that children might also benefit from positive changes in gut microbiota, not just adults. An increase in healthy bacteria at expense of other bacteria that might have a negative effect could contribute to the health of the intestinal environment.”

But in spite of fiber’s benefits, tolerance is a big part of successful fortification, especially when it comes to products targeting children.  

“One of the challenges for all fibers is of course tolerance level, because some products might have side effects. Tolerance for the soluble wheat bran extract is very high,” Laporte said. “And because it’s soluble, it can be easily incorporated into foods consumers already eat without deteriorating taste, feel, or eating quality—which is essential for broad consumer acceptance and important in products that are aimed at children.”

Being derived from wheat bran, soluble wheat bran extract also naturally contains high levels of the antioxidant ferulic acid, which Cargill insists “travels with purification and extraction” for strong antioxidant potential in the final ingredient. Still, Bosscher noted that manufacturers may want to run application tests to determine the antioxidant potential in finished food and beverage products.

Ideal for beverages (but not just for beverages!)

The supplier is still conducting tests to see how the ingredient behaves in different applications, and while beverages are a key target, Bosscher says it shouldn’t be restricted to that category. “We’re testing it in dairy, bakery and other options,” she said. “The flavor and color are quite neutral in applications, so you could easily incorporate it without having typical fiber appearance that some high fiber products have, which is also quite appealing for children.”

With a growing global population that is also aging, Laporte noted that the current consumer landscape is unique in its increased awareness of the effects of health and nutrition. “People are looking to prevent illness instead of cure it,” she said. “Food must bring more than nutrition, it should also bring health and well-being.”

It should also be recognizable on an ingredient label, she added. “Consumers are increasingly looking at origin of foods they consume,” she said. “As such, a fiber like soluble wheat bran extract from the plant cell wall is recognizable and has a clean label. It comes from a traditional crop that consumers easily link with what they expect to be in a food or on a label.”

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