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Fats & Oils
Flour Mixtures
Foam Cakes
Food Systems
Fruits & Vegetables
Hydrocolloids, Vegetable Gums
Meat, Fish, Poultry
Shortened Cake
Sponge Cakes
Vegetable Gums
Frequently Asked Questions

The learner will be able to --
  • list the probable function of hydrocolloids.
  • list hydrocolloids from land plants, sea plants, and microbial sources.
  • identify hydrocolloids on food labels and list their probable use.
  • report on sensory characteristics of a hydrocolloid when consumed.


Hydrocolloids serve a variety of functions. In foods which have had value added the functionality may be complicated by the other ingredients. The listing of gums, does not cover all food gums available to the food processor and preparer. Genetic and processing improvements are constantly being made. Additionally, further sources are being investigated. It is likely that there may be a additional hydrocolloids developed from trees, plants and seaweed. However, it is more likely that innovations and development of additional hydrocolloids will be obtained from microbes. It is because of the latter that the food industry is more likely to talk about the use of hydrocolloids; however, one needs to be aware that, historically, vegetable gums are a significant category of these hydrocolloids.

There are many different sugars involved in the primary hydrocolloids used in foods. It should be remembered that many hydrocolloids themselves are polysaccharides. There may be other constituents removed during extract of a exudate, seed or seaweed. It is of interest to note that Gum Arabic, although considered to be a polysaccharide, may have amino acids at the peripheral of the branched structure with a greater proportion located within the core of the exudate structure. One should thus recognize that the functionality of the gums may be determined by proteoglycans rather than that of pure polysaccharidse. Other gums may also have amino acids. Further work in this area needs to be done.

Basically, these hydrocolloids are water-soluble. Because of this water-solubility, they improve mouthfeel and pourability, extend shelf-life, encapsulate flavors, emulsify beverages, build viscosity, retain moisture, and provide elasticity and freeze-thaw stability. By definition, hydrocolloids, to various degrees, are water-soluble, and will hydrate and increase viscosity. Selecting the appropriate hydrocolloids requires not only an understanding of the physical properties of the hydrocolloids but also an understanding of the foods themselves. The important differences are exhibited in the other properties and functions. It is difficult to ascribe defined exact characteristics and functions to the broad class of gums' indicated in this module. The properties of the gums expressed in food are effected by many factors such as: orientation and molecular association, orientation, water-binding and swelling, concentration, particle size, degree of dispersion, and interaction with other gums. For example, carraggeenan has several chemical structures which gives slightly different functional properties. The individual characteristics of carrageenan and locust bean gum may be enhanced beyond the sum of each due to the synergism and interaction of these two gums. This is particularly evident in chocolate milk or a frozen dairy product.

How does the food processor and preparer go about selecting the appropriate hydrocolloid?

To some extent one can generally indicate the gum to select for a product based on its characteristics. It is critical to have a concept and understanding of characteristics to do this, however, a more precise and accurate selection can be made by contacting a manufacturer.

Applications are many. Part of the reason, this is so the properties given off by the tremendous properties many 1% low little flavor little color. However, the selection process and subsequent application is critical to understanding the interaction of hydrocolloids, food ingredients and the ultimate food product. One of the processes for gaining this understanding is to work through applications available on this web site.

Typical Functions of Hydrocolloids in Food Products
adhesivebakery glaze, icings
binding agentsausages
calorie control agentdietetic foods[low-fat]
crystallization inhibitorice cream, candies, sugar syrups, icings, toppings
clarifying agentbeer, wine
cloud agentfruit juice
coating agentconfectionary
emulsifiersalad dressing, cake mixes
encapsulating agentpowdered flavors
fat replacer frostings, baked products such as cakes, muffins
film formersausage casings, protective coating, glazes
flocculating agentwine
foam stabilizerwhipped toppings, beer, meringues
gelling agentpuddings, desserts, piping, aspics
lubricantcookies, cakes
moldinggum drops, jelly candies
protective colloidflavor emulsifiers
stabilizerbeer, mayonnaise, pasta product
suspending agentchocolate milk
swelling agentprocessed meats
thickening custard mixes, cake batters jams, pie fillings, puddings, sauces
water binding
(prevents syneresis)
cheese, chill salads, frozen foods, cookies, muffins
whipping agentartificial whipped cream, toppings, icings
The listing on the right is only a selected indication of function and uses of hydrocolloids. Further information can be found at TIC GUMS or Kelco or other companies for applications to selected gums. Although it is almost prohibitive to fully look at all functions and uses.

Classes of Hydrocolloids:

  • derivatives from exudation or sap of trees or bushes
  • extracts from seed
  • extracts from seaweeds
  • microbial gums

  • Sources and Applications of Water-Soluble Gums
    Gum arabicAcacia or Acacia senegal tree (regions of Agrica) flavor emulsions, clouding agents, filler in dietetic formulas, candy and snack coatings, icings
    Gum tragacanthAstralgus gummifer shrub (Middle East) or other Asiatic speciesheavy-bodied flavor emulsions, low calorie salad dressings, relishes, sauces, sandwich spreads.
    Gum karayaSterculia urens tree (India) or Cochlospermum speciespaper, pharmaceutical preparations.
    Gum Larch tree exudate or extract
    Gum ghattiAnogeissus latifolia tree (India and Ceylon) pharmaceutical and industrial emulsions
    Seed or Root
    Locust BeanCeratonia siliquia plant (Mediterranean) thickener in sauces, gravies, aids in "whey " prevention in ice cream, butter milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese; prevents "watering off" in dietetic jams and jellies, pie fillings and frozen foods; bodying agent in beverages
    Gum guarEndosperm of seed from Cyanopsis tetragonolobusplant (india and Pakistan) prevents ice crystallization in ice cream, provides body in other dairy applications; thickener for instant soups, sauces, gravies; bodying agent beverages; suspension aid in batters; moisture retention in cakes, donuts, frozen foods.
    Psyllium Seed
    Quince Seed
    Gum agar-agarRed algae Gelidium or Gracalaria seaweed (Far East and Mediterranean. icing stabilizer, pie fillings, meringues, piping gels.
    AlginatesLaminaria seaweed (offshore waters of U.S., England, Norway, France, Japan, and Canada)dietetic and regular salad dressings, puddings, pie fillings, ice cream, sherbet and icings.
    Carrageenan (Irish moss extract)Chondrus crispus (Nova Scotia, Mediterranean)dairy products
    FurcellaranFurcellaria fastigiata seaweeddietetic jams, jellies, dessert gels, syrup thickener, flans
    Pectin . .
    Gelatin . .
    Starch. .
    . . .
    TamarinoTamarindus indica(India) textiles, paper
    Xanthan Gummicrobial.
    Dextran . .
    Starch Derivatives . .
    Carboxymethylstarch . .
    Hyroxyethylstarch . .
    Hydroxypropylstarch . .
    Cellulose Derivatives . .
    Carboxymethylcellulose . .
    Methylcellulose . .
    Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose . .
    Hydroxypropylcellulose . .
    Hydroxyethylcellulose . .
    Ethylhydroxyethylcellulose . .
    Microcrystalline Cellulose . .
    Low Methoxyl Pectin . .
    Propylene Glycol Alginate. .
    Triethanolamine Alginate . .
    Carboxymethyl Locust Bean Gum . .
    Carboxymethyl Guar Gum . .
    Completely Synthetic Gums. .
    Vinyl Polymers. .
    Polyvinylpyrrolidone . .
    Polyvinylalcohol . .
    Carboxyvinyl Polymer . .
    Acrylic Polymers . .
    Polyacrylic Acid . .
    Polyacrylamide . .
    Ethylene Oxide Polymers . .
    Ammonium Alginate Ammounium salt of Phaeophyceae
    Alginic Acid Laminaria digitata
    Irish Moss [also carrageenan]Chondrus crispus and Gigartina species
    Propylene Glycol Alginate ester of phaeophyceae
    Sodium Alginate sodium salt of phaeophyceae
    Talha Acacia stenocarpa and A. Seyal
    . . .
    . . .
    . . .

    Generally, hydrocolloids are primarily water soluble; however, there are exceptions. Following are some of the primary select properties of specific hydrocolloids.

    Water-Soluble Hydrocolloids

    Characteristic Agar Alginates Arabic Carrageenan Cellulose Ghatti GuarKaraya Locust Bean TragacanthXanthan
    solubility in cold water .. # . . . . . . .
    high swelling ability in cold water .# . . # . # # . .
    good water absorber .. . . . . # # #.# .
    excellent milk reactivity. #. # . . .. . . . .
    good emulsifying ability #. # # . # . . . . .
    high viscosity after cooking .. . # . . # . ## .
    high gel strength after cooking ## . # . . . . . . .

    • agar: agar is a polysaccharide found in the cell walls of some red algae and is unusual in containing sulfated galactose monomers. It requires nothing but extraction and purification to become agar, but is sometimes chemically modified into agarose for special applications. Agar: gracilaria or gelidium, is the queen of gelling agents
    • hydrocolloid: a substance with particles of colloidal size that is greatly attracted to water and absorbs it readily; colloidal materials such as vegetable gums, that bind water and have thickening and/or gelling properties; large molecules, such as those that make up vegetable gums, that form colloidal dispersions, hold water, and often serve as thickeners and stabilizers in processed foods.
    • methyl ester of galacturonic acid: ester is the chemical word used to describe the linkage between an organic acid group (-cooh) and an alcohol group (-oh); in this case, the alcohol is methanol (which contains only one carbon atom) and the acid is galacturonic acid
    • microcrystalline cellulose: is a gum which is the nonfibrous form of cellulose, being an alpha cellulose. It is dispersible in water but not soluble, requiring considerable energy to disperse and hydrate. In this form it is used in dry applications such as tableting, capsules, and shredded cheese where it functions as a nonnutritive filler, binder, flow aid, and anti caking agent.
    • plant exudates: materials that ooze out of certain plants; some that ooze from certain tree trunks and branches are gums
    • polydextrose: a bulking agent made from an 89:10:1 mixture of glucose, sorbitol, and citric acid; in body metabolism it yields one kilocalorie per gram; often used with nonnutritive sweeteners in manufactured foods; is a condensation polymer of dextrose with minor amounts of sorbitol and citric acid; it contains only 1 kilocalorie per gram.
    • polymer: a giant molecule formed from smaller molecules that are chemically linked together.
    • vegetable gums: polysaccharide substances that are derived from plants, including seaweed and various shrubs or trees, have the ability to hold water, and often acid as thickeners, stabilizers, or gelling agents in various food products; for example, algin, carrageenan, and gum arabic
    • xanthan gum: A polysaccharide gum produced on a commercial basis from the fermentation of corn sugar by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. The United States Agriculture Department has asked for the3 use of xanthan gum as a necessary ingredient in packaging meat and poultry products. It is now used to thicken, suspend, emulsify, and stabilize water-based foods, such as dairy products and salad dressings.

    Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012.