Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that has several useful properties as a food additive.1 Due to all of the advances in production technology that’ve taken place over the last 20 years or so, the possibilities for the application of this molecule in food products is increasing all the time.
Because it’s so ubiquitous on food labels, due to its many uses, vegans often run across the ingredient and want to know if it’s suitable for consumption.
Is it vegan? Yes, maltodextrin is 100% vegan. It’s basically a chain composed of molecules of the simple sugar glucose. The number of units can vary, but the chain averages about seven glucose molecules linked together per maltodextrin molecule.2
However, just because maltodextrin in itself is vegan, doesn’t mean that every application of the compound is vegan-friendly. So, what we’ll do is go over the various uses of the compound in both vegan and non-vegan applications, so you’ll know when a food product containing the ingredient is suitable for vegan consumption.
Maltodextrin in Vegan-Friendly Foods
Corn and Corn Syrup
Corn syrups can be made in a variety of ways. For example, HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) is produced by enzymatic isomerization which converts glucose molecules to fructose, raising the percentage of fructose in the food product.
Corn syrups can also be dried which produces corn syrup solids made of glucose and maltodextrins.3
Corn starch is starch that’s extracted from corn. Corn contains a lot of maltodextrins, which again, is just a short-chain polysaccharide. It is small enough to bind to our taste buds, and the smaller the molecule is, the sweeter it tastes.
So, this is useful to know because if someone is concerned maltodextrin isn’t vegan, they need only consider that it’s naturally present in corn—which is a vegan staple.
Reduced-Fat Plant-Based Ingredients
Fat plays a lot of functional roles in food. From mock meats to flour, fat helps improve mouthfeel and achieve desired textural properties.
However, the high total fat content resulting from the added fat (or fat naturally present in foods) increases the total calorie count. So, to help improve consumer acceptance of food, several plant-based ingredients can be used in place of fat to get the same properties without the added calories.
Several commercial flour blends (which all tend to be vegan) incorporate fat substitutes.4
Specific ingredients that tend to be used as fat replacements include starches like maltodextrin as well as, gums, beta-glucan, and fiber (both soluble and insoluble).5
This is a fancy-looking ingredient you’ve no doubt encountered when scanning labels for vegan-friendliness.
Because starch consists of repeating glucose units, and can be broken down into these individual units, it can be broken down into smaller molecules like maltodextrin, just dextrin, and dextrose (glucose), to achieve a sweeter taste desired in certain food products like confections, canned goods, and wine.
The food industry refers to glucose derived from starch as dextrose and measures the degree of conversion to glucose (from starch) in dextrose equivalents or DEs.6
Any hydrolysis product of starch including maltodextrin is considered a starch hydrolysate.7
In fact, the most common solid starch hydrolysates used in the food industry these days is corn syrup solids (DE = 24 to 48) and dry maltodextrins (DE < 20).8
You may have heard of resistant starch or RS. It’s been growing in popularity in recent times due to its functional uses in the food industry.
RS is divided into four categories: RS1, RS2, RS3, and RS4.9
However, there’s a fifth type of soluble polysaccharide called “resistant maltodextrin.” Because, it’s not a true starch, it’s not usually referred to as RS, but it’s indigestible like RS due to the rearrangement of starch molecules to an indigestible form.10
Non-nutritive sweeteners are sweeteners that don’t have any caloric content. They’re popular for use in food products because they lower the calorie content and allow for “sugar-free” labeling.
However, while they do replace the sweetness of sugar, they lack important functional characteristics of sugar—namely, binding, bulking, fermenting, and texturing.
For this reason, certain compounds are often added to reduced-sugar and sugar-free foods to compensate for the loss of these functional properties.
Compounds used to replace the properties of sugar include maltodextrin as well as cellulose, polydextrose, and the sugar alcohols.11,12
For example, Equal Granular combines maltodextrin and aspartame. The maltodextrin serves as a non-sweet bulking agent.13
Equal (original) is a blend of maltodextrin, dextrose, and aspartame. The bulking agent is important because the sweet substance (aspartame) is so much sweeter than sugar such that it would require impractical measuring tools to dose it properly.
By adding maltodextrin, you’re able to use artificial sweeteners like Equal in a 1:1 ratio (volume) when using them as a sugar substitute.
You’ve probably run across powdered margarine on food labels. Powdered margarine is made by removing the fats (plant oils) and chemically treating, drying, and then combining the dried substance with various dry ingredients like maltodextrins, corn syrup solids, color additives, and guar gum.
It’s not a common household ingredient, but it is used quite a bit by the food industry, where it is reconstituted with hot water and used to add flavor to sauces, soups, vegetables, and baked products.14
Because of the added solids, it’s lower in calories compared to regular margarine.
Several food additives tend to be used in bread products like cake. Maltodextrin is used in cake to enhance stability and flavor.15
The carbohydrate content (being largely sugar) is of concern for health-conscious folks and those with diabetes or hypoglycemia, so maltodextrin and similar additives are used for reduced-sugar and sugar-free cookies and cakes.16
Research in the area of producing healthier processed foods continues to develop cake batters and cookies doughs with little to no added simple sugars.17
One problem researchers have encountered when reducing the amount of sucrose in cakes and cookies is that it lessens the bulking properties contributed by sugar. Commercial food manufacturers have managed to get around this by using certain bulking agents like maltodextrins, polydextrose, sugar alcohols, cellulose, and insoluble fiber.18
Vegan Ice Cream
A number of dairy-free ice creams have hit the market in recent times. Vegan ice creams make use of maltodextrin, cellulose gum, and other vegan-friendly additives to enhance flavor and act as stabilizers.19
Sports beverages like Gatorade are vegan unless they use non-vegan colorants. They provide carbohydrates in several forms including maltodextrin, sucrose, and glucose.
A lot of folks assume the electrolytes like potassium and sodium are the main components of sports drinks that help people keep hydrated.
However, carbs like maltodextrin contribute substantially to the hydrating effects of sports drinks because the glucose (free glucose and the glucose broken down from maltodextrin) helps the water absorb in the GI tract.
A lot of reduced-fat meat alternatives use maltodextrin combined with other plant starches (modified food starches and oat fiber or oat bran) to act as extenders when making soy protein and texturized vegetable protein (TVP). Vegetable gums like carrageenan are also common.20
Non-Vegan Uses of Maltodextrin
Like with mock meats, the fat in ground beef can be reduced with the use of extenders like maltodextrin. The food additive is often used with other non-vegan ingredients like nonfat dry milk to make lower-fat meat products.20
Food products like Cheese Puffs, Doritos, etc. use extenders like maltodextrin. Such ingredients help enhance the flavor and lower the fat content of processed snack foods.21
The basic composition of a cheese coating mostly consists of partially hydrogenated plant oils, dried cheddar cheese powder, and other non-vegan ingredients like cheese flavor and whey protein.
Nacho seasoning often includes dried cheese powder (Parmesan, Cheddar, etc.) and sugar usually in the form of maltodextrin.22
We touched on powdered margarine above. Powdered butter is perhaps even more common. It’s made by removing the fats in natural butter, drying and chemically treating them, and then combining them with other non-vegan ingredients like whey solids.
Using extenders like maltodextrin lowers the calorie and cholesterol content.14
Common carbohydrate-based fat replacers include CrystaLean, Maltrin, Lycadex, Paselli SA2, Paselli EXCEL, Paselli D-LITE, and Star-Dri. These are used for gelling, stabilizing, texturizing, and thickening.23
Reduced-Fat Ice Cream
Dairy-free ice creams aren’t the only ice creams that make use of additives like maltodextrin. In ice cream, maltodextrin acts as a flavor enhancer and stabilizer.19
The use of maltodextrin helps low-fat ice cream achieve a nice creamy texture to the point where you often don’t notice the reduced-fat content. Without maltodextrin and other gums (cellulose, etc.), the ice cream may taste really sweat, but it would lack the melt-in-your-mouth creaminess.
In fact, texture is second only to flavor when it comes to the perceived quality of ice cream. The main contributor to texture is the total amount of solids present in the liquid ice cream mix before it is frozen.
Milk fat is the best, but extenders like maltodextrin are a close second.
Extenders replace the solids that are lost by removing some of the milk fat, which helps regain some of the satisfying mouthfeel and creaminess otherwise lost.
Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in commercial hot cocoa mix. A lot of hot cocoa mixes come with reduced-fat milk, so maltodextrin is often used to add creaminess.
In fact, maltodextrin comes standard in most hot cocoa mixes. The US Patent number 5264228 states that commercial dry cocoa mixes have to be prepared using non-fat milk solids and maltodextrin, along with an acidifier, emulsifier, and an artificial sweetener.24
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to whip up a batch of vegan-friendly hot chocolate. One need only a bit of cocoa powder, some sugar, and plant milk. But, when it comes to buying the individual packets of hot chocolate mix, they usually, if not always, contain milk.
That’s it for the vegan status of maltodextrin. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Is Tapioca Really Vegan?
- Is Cellulose Gum Vegan?
- Is Salt Vegan? (Table Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt, Sea Salt, Etc.)
- Denise L. Hofman, Vincent J. van Buul, Fred J. P. H. Brouns (2016). “Nutrition, Health, and Regulatory Aspects of Digestible Maltodextrins”. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 56 (12): 2091–2100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940893/
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 420). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 372). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Blends reduce fat in bakery products. Food Technology 48(6):168–170, 1994.
- Shukla TP. Baking fat-free tortillas. Cereal Foods World 42(3):142–143, 1997.
- Storz E, and KJ Steff ens. Feasibility study for determination of the dextrose equivalent (DE) of starch hydrolysis products with near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Starch/Starke 56:58–62, 2004.
- Chronakis IS. On the molecular characteristics, compositional properties, and structural-functional mechanisms of maltodextrins: A review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 38(7):599–637, 1998.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 393). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Leake LL. Analyzing resistant starch. Food Technology 60(7):67–69, 76, 2006.
- Mermelstein NH. Analyzing for resistant starch. Food Technology 63(4):80–84, 2009
- Ang JF, and GA Crosby. Formulated reduced-calorie foods with powdered cellulose. Food Technology 59(3): 35–38, 2005.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 443). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Equal® Faqs: Ingredients, Nutrition Facts & Safety. http://www.equal.com/faqs/
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 459). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 483). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Sangronis E, and M Sancio. Development and characterization of rice bran cookies. Acta Cientifi ca Venezolana 41(3):199–202, 1990.
- Zoulias EI, V Oreopoulou, and E Kounalaki. Eff ect of fat and sugar replacement on cookie properties. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 82(14):1637–1644, 2002.
- Bullock LM, et al. Replacement of simple sugars in cookie dough. Food Technology 46(1):82–86, 1992.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 545). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- DeFreitas Z, et al. Carrageenan effects on salt-soluble meat proteins in model systems. Journal of Food Science 62(3):539–543, 1997.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 153). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 353). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 466). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 562). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011