What Is Maltodextrin?

Corn on the cob

Maltodextrin is a sweetener derived from cornstarch. It is manufactured through a chemical process called hydrolysis which converts the starch in cornstarch to sugar. Maltodextrin, however, is not the only sweetener made from cornstarch. High fructose corn syrup and crystalline fructose also are derived from this source.

Definition of Maltodextrin

Something else to be aware of is the use of the term maltodextrin. Certainly, you will see the term listed as an ingredient in certain products. Its actual chemical structure can vary with the manufacturing process. The differences lie in how many dextrose units are included in its chemical base.

Dextrose is the most common form of natural glucose, found in both plant and animal tissue, with a unit being one molecule of this sugar. Maltodextrin can have anywhere between 3 to 19 dextrose units.

Technically, maltodextrin can be used to describe any starch hydrolysis product with 19 or fewer dextrose units. For most individuals, whatever form you find it in does not impact whether or not it is gluten-free. Your main concern is with the source and the other ingredients present in the food.

Corn Sweeteners

Typically, you may think of sugar, honey, or maple syrup as primary sweeteners used in foods along with several sugar substitutes. However, it may surprise you to learn that many commercial sweeteners are also derived from a corn source, with pure cornstarch being by far the biggest producer of carbohydrate-based sweeteners.

Cornstarch is one of the safe foods for those on a gluten-free diet. In fact, other corn-based products are also gluten-free including corn meal, corn syrup, and corn flour. So, it makes sense maltodextrin might be safe as well.

Maltodextrin From Wheat

Maltodextrin can also be manufactured from other sources including corn, potato, rice or wheat. Celiacs and those with gluten sensitivity find the mention of wheat as a source alarming. Generally, maltodextrin produced in the United States is corn based whereas European products typically are wheat based.

According to GlutenFreeLiving.com, the manufacturing process removes the wheat protein, which in essence makes it gluten-free. Yet, because of its source, you will see wheat in the list of ingredients. This fact certainly makes it confusing if you must stick to gluten-free foods.

Most celiac organizations in the United States and Canada do not regard wheat starch as safe for celiac patients or gluten-intolerant individuals. However, the European opinion differs where Codex Alimentarius Quality wheat starch is concerned safe. Research is ongoing. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (56:10292-10302) found that of the commercial wheat starches tested, all were within the Codex Alimentarius Standard for naturally gluten-free foods.

Maltodextrin-Containing Foods

Several common foods contain maltodextrin. This includes foods ranging from canned fruits to cereals to candies. While the sweetener itself is synthesized, you may also find it in organic and natural products. From a manufacturer's standpoint, it is fairly inexpensive, making it a desirable ingredient.

Is It Safe for Celiac Patients?

When it comes down to it, maltodextrin is a safe ingredient for celiac patients and gluten-intolerant individuals, according to Celiac.com. If you have concerns, only purchase products produced in the United States. As with any product of which you are uncertain, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer for more information regarding their sources.

When you are compelled to go gluten-free, you must scrutinize everything you eat. While some forbidden items such as pasta and bread are obvious, the host of additives you are likely to find in processed foods complicates your diet choices. Taking time to become informed will help you choose foods which are safe for you and your family.

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What Is Maltodextrin?