Pectin is an ingredient consumers recognize on numerous product labels and may even keep in their pantry for canning jams and jellies. Commonly used as a gelling agent, stabilizer and thickener, the use of pectin more recently expanded into other applications including ready-to-drink (RTD) juice and tea beverages, where it enhances mouthfeel, and acidified dairy applications, where it provides protein stabilization. Pectin also can be used as a source of soluble dietary fiber in a wide range of applications.
Current Pectin Shortage
Commercial pectin is most commonly manufactured from the peels of apples or citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges. Like any agricultural product, the supply of pectin has fluctuated at times when weather or disease has damaged or has otherwise limited crop yields. Such damage most recently happened with the 2014 crop when citrus greening devastated the lime industry in Mexico and a freeze in Argentina damaged the lemon trees. The winter conditions in Argentina were much milder, and the 2015 peel crop was larger than the previous year.
The shortage and renegotiation of expired long-term contracts have made the amount of raw material secured by pectin producers misaligned with global manufacturing capacity. The result is limited pectin availability and price increases. In response to these limitations, several pectin manufacturers have announced capacity expansion projects and process improvement measures to increase capacity; however, these projects will take longer than a year to complete.
Replacing the Functionality of Pectin
With current inventories of pectin dwindling and few indications that new supplies will return to the market any time soon, food and beverage manufacturers are searching for other texturizing alternatives. However, they are quickly finding that some functionalities of pectin are easier to replace than others.
Choosing pectin alternatives is based ultimately on the manufacturer’s needs including the desired functionality of their specific application. The use of stabilizers replaces certain attributes such as mouth coating and viscosity otherwise lost when pectin is removed. Stabilizers also can provide texture, increase the rate at which the beverage clears the mouth and reduce the awareness of particulates without relying on pectin alone.
Blends of natural gums, such as gum acacia and xanthan gum, take advantage of gum-gum synergies to add mouth coating and viscosity in common applications such as juice and tea beverages. As an expansion of single ingredient stabilizers, blended gum systems can target texture, improve stability and provide cost-in-use savings. By using a combination of stabilizers, formulators have the ability to customize the desired attributes of their applications.
Despite the shortage, manufacturers have options for replacing the functionality of pectin in their specific food and beverage applications. Whether they’re looking to gel, stabilize or thicken their new or existing formulations, individual and blended gum systems are at the ready to fill the pectin void.
Migue deJong is director of marketing at TIC Gums, a global leader in advanced texture and stabilization solutions for the food and beverage industry. He has an extensive global marketing and business development background and more than 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. In his current role, he oversees the marketing, communications, product management and business development efforts.