CP Kelco has been working on gellan gum for over 40 years. Gellan-producing bacteria (Sphingomonas elodea) was discovered on a lily plant in a pond in Pennsylvania in 1978 as part of a Kelco screening program of hundreds of bacteria, following the company’s commercialization of xanthan gum.
Jérôme Béra, CP Kelco's Sr. Vice President, Global Marketing, told us: “The trend towards protein-based systems is driving demand for gellan gum – either enriching dairy beverages with protein and minerals, or formulating plant-based, alternative protein beverages and ambient drinking yogurts, which are also becoming plant-based and beginning to move toward lighter mouthfeel.
“It has been tremendously successful in plant-based, alternative protein beverages, and we are now looking at its application in other plant-based products such as dairy-alternative yogurts, cheeses and ice creams, as well as meat alternatives.”
“Another interesting and growing segment is dysphagia care, with Japan leading the way because of its significant elderly population. Gellan gum is perfect for gelling and reconstituting softer, easier-to-swallow foods and beverages to address dysphagia. It also has a long open time that is helpful to restaurant, hospital and retirement home staff preparing these foods.”
The ingredient has been attracting a lot of attention for its clean label appeal. In 2016, Almond Breeze removed carrageenan from its products and replaced them with gellan gum, and other brands did the same with their almond and soy milks when bloggers and voices in social media drove a move away from carrageenan, said Béra. “This has fueled significant interest in gellan gum, since the product is so versatile and able to step in as a stabilizer and suspension agent,” he said.
“It’s a beneficial ingredient for manufacturers who want to clean up their labels,” Béra added, before noting that various grades are available depending on desired attributes, such as vegan, Non-GMO Project (NGP) verified and organic compliant.
“We have limited data on consumer perceptions of gellan gum but, based on what we have gathered from social media to date, we know that gellan gum is relatively unknown – so there is a significant opportunity to educate consumers about this unique ingredient and its role and benefits in a broad range of food, beverage and other consumer products.”
When the ingredient was initially developed the focus was on its gelling functionality, with CP Kelco offering low acyl gellan gums to produce firm, brittle and non-elastic textures, with key application in products like water jellies, dairy desserts, confections and bakery fillings and jellies.
The first product on the market with low acyl gellan gum was a a fruit-flavored soft drink from Canada called Orbitz, which contained suspended, gelled beads.
The company has continued to research the ingredient, shifting its focus in the late 1990s to high acyl gellan gum, which form soft elastic textures.
“The fluid gel network created by high acyl gellan gum is what gives it an innovative suspension system that is unlike other hydrocolloids,” explained Shaw Gilmer, Sr. Director, Biogums Platform Strategy. “At rest, KELCOGEL Gellan Gum provides a weak gel structure, resulting in excellent suspension of ingredients like proteins, minerals and fruit pulp. The structure is easily disrupted upon agitation, resulting in low viscosity when pouring and therefore a light, refreshing mouthfeel.”
Innovation is now in the tailored grades to help replace other stabilizers, said Gilmer. For example, one new grade of gellan gum offers dual function – providing both suspension and more mouthfeel, he added.
“Another new grade provides better foam stability for baristas who inject steam in their process of making coffee drinks.
“One efficiency we’ve discovered is that when you use gellan gum instead of other traditional stabilizer in the manufacturing process for recombined milk products, gellan gum doesn’t cause fouling in the equipment. This provides customers with longer run time. We’re also seeing new applications we didn’t quite expect, including the next generation of ambient drinking yogurts where a thinner mouthfeel is desired.”