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Glycerin and sorbitol in bakery and confectionary help food keep shape
Wednesday, 29 July, 2020, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Chef Manish Khanna
Humectants are hydroscopic additives for keeping products moist. These are used widely in the food industry as these control product changes from environmental shifts. Humectant compounds are able to attract and retain moisture by absorbing water vapour to a products surface. Some products have a natural ability to draw in moisture.

Chefs and culinary experts use normal ingredients to extend shelf life like honey, sugar and salt. But in today’s times, these are not enough to keep products safe and infestation free so we add extra ingredients to do the same.

The most common humectants for the food industry are polyols. These are a family of compounds which are colourless, odourless and have sweet tasting properties. Glycerin and sorbitol are widely used in bakery and confectionery. The basic purpose of these is to prevent the foods from drying out, crystallising and breaking apart. This helps food to keep its shape and texture.

Supplement each other
Glycerin and sorbitol are found to supplement each other in their inhibition of both mould and bacteria; hence, it not only helps in keeping food moist but also keeps it from going bad.  In bread doughs, when these ingredients are added they prevent water evaporation and aid in retaining moisture so it is beneficial in bread doughs.

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is manufactured from the glucose produced from corn starch. It is often used as a sugar substitute in candies, baked goods, syrups and beverages. Sorbitol is roughly 60 per cent as sweet as sucrose and it has approximately 2.6 calories per gram. It also occurs naturally in some stone fruits and berries. It has fewer calories than sugar and it is very poorly absorbed by the body, so it does not raise insulin levels as much as sugar does, nor does it promote tooth decay.

So apart from being a humectant it can also be used in products which are being made for diabetics and the one with dietary requirements. Frequently, it comes in a powder form which is being used as a sweetener or humectant in the production of confectionery, baked goods and also chocolates, because of its moisture retaining ability. It also makes a good choice for products that tend to become dry or harden. It also helps in maintaining freshness during the storage. It can withstand high temperatures which also combine well with other food ingredients like gelling agents, fats and sugars.

Cake fresher for longer period of time
Hailed as a magic ingredient to keep your skin soft supple and full of moisture, you may be more familiar with glycerin found out in bathroom cabinet than in our pantry. It works well as a humectant to reduce moisture and has same properties when used in baking. It keeps baked cake fresher for longer period of time. When we add it in to royal icings, it prevents from setting hard and dry making it easier to apply on cakes and guarantees a smooth cut when slicing it.

Adding a small amount of glycerin to sugar and water when it is being heated at higher temperatures helps in preventing the soar from crystallising. It also gives a soft creamy consistency to fudge, truffles and caramels so making it an ideal choice while candy making.

When it is added to butter cream it helps it from drying out and forming a crust. It helps to keep the buttercream silky smooth. Adding a tablespoon of glycerin while making fondant will help improve the texture and workability. Even if we have old fondant that is slightly hard and stiff we can add a little glycerin to it making it fresh and workable like new, so now all box made ready fondants have this as an ingredient to add the moisture and working ease to it.

Salt and sugar can be problematic
Humectants introduce undesirable flavours into a product. Glycerin is advantageous because it’s flavourless unless used in high concentrations. It’s also completely miscible in water and would not precipitate out in solid form when a products water activity will change. Salt and sugar can be problematic in addition to adding flavour. They form solids once the concentration reaches the saturation point in the product, to address these issues many manufacturers use a combination of humectants.

Emulsifiers in baking are a key to a good quality final product because they stabilise the dough and reduce the rate of staling. Humectants are also important as they help baked good retain moisture.

The changing lifestyles around the world are attracting the growth of processed foods and humectants play an important part in these in confectionery and baked goods.

(The author is founder and partner, Brownie Point and Noir, Mumbai. He can be contacted at manishkhanna1508@gmail.com)
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