Looking at the typical ingredients list can be baffling for even the most well-informed consumer. This is particularly difficult for vegans, as everything from food dyes to thickening and hardening agents are often made with animal ingredients. Among the obscure, polysyllabic chemical names lining many food labels is a compound called maltodextrin. Luckily for vegans, animal ingredients are not involved at any stage of the production of this vegetable-derived starch.
Production and Source
Maltodextrin is an oligosaccharide, which is a type of starch containing a number of simple, interlocked sugars. Producing maltodextrin involves the use of enzymes to break down very complex starches. Although maltodextrin can be made from any complex starch, it is most commonly made from corn, wheat or tapioca. Whichever starch is used, the final product is a white, slightly sweet or flavorless powder. With no animal products used at any point in the process, maltodextrin is purely vegan.
Despite being a sugar, maltodextrin has an incredibly mild, sweet flavor and no odor. It also differs from common sugars in that it dissolves in water, easily melts in your mouth, but does not dissolve in fats. In fact, its very porous structure allows maltodextrin to soak up and bind liquid fats. To do so at home, you should aim for a mixture containing approximately 40 percent maltodextrin and 60 percent fats. Although using such large quantities might seem to present issues for digestion, your body easily breaks maltodextrin down into simple sugars for quick use.
Common Uses in Food
The combination of easy digestion, little flavor, no odor, and the ability to bind fats results in maltodextrin being a very popular food additive. Unfortunately, some of the most common uses of this vegan ingredient are in non-vegan foods. Popular examples include binding the fats in chocolate, thickening candies and pudding and a combination of these applications in baked goods. Common vegan-friendly uses of maltodextrin include helping to thicken the syrups in canned fruits and trap the flavors used in crackers and chips.
Powdered Foods and Drinks
One of the most interesting properties of maltodextrin is that it can soak up a significant amount of fats while retaining its white, flavorless, odorless, powdered form. This unique property lends maltodextrin well to the production of powdered drinks and foods that regain their original form and flavor when dissolved in water. One of the most popular examples is powdered sports drinks and drinks mixes. Other less common examples include powdered peanut butter and oil-containing powdered toppings on foods.
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Vegetarian Journal's Guide To Food Ingredients
- Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food; Jeff Potter
Matthew Lee has been writing professionally since 2007. Past and current research projects have explored the effect of a diagnosis of breast cancer on lifestyle and mental health and adherence to lifestyle-based (i.e. nutrition and exercise) and drug therapy treatment programs. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University and is working toward his doctorate in health psychology.