Maltodextrin: What is it and is it bad for you?
I remember it like it was yesterday. The moment when I first discovered maltodextrin. I was at the supermarket and picked up some honey roasted peanuts and looked at the label. On it was an ingredient that sounded like it was out a science fiction novel! Maltodextrin!!! What is that?
I walked down the aisle at the supermarket and picked up some coffee creamer. Corn Syrup Solids? I don’t get it. Why would you make corn into a liquid, only to turn in back into a solid again? Seems like a lot of extra steps to me.
Maltodextrin and Corn/Rice Syrup Solids Definition
Maltodextrin and Corn/Rice Syrup Solids are similar products created from treated grain starch.
Maltodextrin and Corn/Rice Syrup Solids Creation
These products start with grain starch slurry. In the U.S. we usually see the grain as corn and rice. I’ve heard that in Europe wheat and sometimes potatoes are used to make these products. The next step is to hydrolyze the slurry by adding enzymes and acids. The time and strength of the hydrolysis determines what it will be. If the starch is only hydrolyzed to a sugar content of less than 20percent then it will be considered to be maltodextrin by the FDA. If it is hydrolyzed further than 20 percent sugar (or dextrose equivalence), then it becomes corn/rice syrup solids. The product is then filtered, purified and then spray dried to make it a powder.
Why are maltodextrin and corn/rice syrup solids used?
Food scientists love this stuff, because it gives a fat-like body to the product, it mixes very easily, it increases shelf life, has a low osmolatity, and has a low hygroscopicity (which means it doesn’t absorb water from the ingredients it is mixed with).
Where you will find Maltodextrin & Corn/Rice Syrup Solids and Why:
- Salad Dressings – Helps with creamy mouthfeel and shelf life.
- Fat-free Frozen Yogurt and other frozen desserts – Used to control ice crystal growth which makes the product smoother. Also helps with shelf life and stabilize texture over time.
- Cheaper spices – used as a neutral-taste flow aid and filler.
- Granola bars and nutrition bars – helps make them chewy and increases shelf life
- Fruit Leathers – Helps make them chewy and helps with shelf life by preventing sugar crystalization
- Meats – Used to make the meat juicier and heavier to increase perceived value
- Frostings and Glazes – used to prevent sugar crystallization in the glaze and give a smoother mouth-feel.
- Low Fat Sour Cream – used as a fat replacer
- Sugar Free Gelatin products – I’m not sure how replacing sugar in a product with a starch based product that is absorbed even quicker than sugar actually makes it healthier. But it does say it is sugar free.
- Cheese Powder – These are used as spray drying aids for the cheese
- Non-dairy Creamer – Used as a spray dry aid and carrier for the fat powders. Also adds body and creamy mouthfeel to the coffee.
- Candy – Helps with the shelf life of hard candies and chewiness of softer candies
- Baked goods – Used to enhance texture and tenderness.
- Electrolyte Blocks/Chews – Used for texture as well as helps replenish carbohydrates to muscles during long workouts (more here).
- Sugar free Products – Because maltodextrin is technically a refined starch with very little actual sugar it can be used in place of sugar and therefore does not need to be labeled as such on a product
- Other “Fat free” labeled products (that normally do have fat) – Maltodextrin and grain syrup solids help create a creamy mouth-feel and are often used as a fat replacement.
Maltodextrin and diet products
It is my opinion that maltodextrin should not be used in any diet or weight loss product because maltodextrin has absorbed into the bloodstream as fast as or faster than table sugar (I have been quoted that is has glycemic index of 130 by one of my industry contacts). This fast gylcemic index can cause blood-sugar peaks and troughs which end up making you hungry soon after you just ate.
What is Dextrose Equivalence (DE)? Or Maltodextrin verses Corn/Rice Syrup Solids
Dextrose Equivalence is a percentage measure of the sweetness of the finished product. If the DE is 20, then is it 20% as sweat as the sugar dextrose.
The difference between the syrup solids and maltodextrin is their dextrose equivalence (DE). It the product has above 20DE it is a syrup solid and it is maltodextrin if it is below 20. Otherwise, they are manufactured the same. Higher DE products have a higher portion that is labeled sugar on the finished product label.
Does it matter if you eat organic maltodextrin & rice syrup solids?
The primary benefits of Organic Maltodextrin and Rice Syrup Solids are:
- 100% organic label claim on a product when used with other organic ingredients
- Rice maltrodextrin, which is the most common organic maltodextrin, is hypoallergenic and glutan free
Note that I don’t believe that organic maltrodextrin and rice syrup solids serves any other benefits. Maltodextrin is a highly refined ingredient so my interpretation is that the potential additional nutrients available to an organic product will likely be refined out.
The healthiest uses for using Maltodextrin and Corn/Rice Syrup Solids
I like using maltodextrin for a few things:
1. Post workout – Because of its very high absorption or glycemic index, I like it because it helps get energy and protein into the muscles after a workout
2. During a very long workout – The high absorption and low osmalality allows maltodextrin to be very good for drinking during longer workouts. Low osmolality means it doesn’t absorb a lot of water. This is good because it will not cause stomach cramping or dehydration. Many products made for marathoners contain maltodextrin and/or rice/corn syrup solids.