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Maltodextrin

I see maltodextrin on the ingredient lists of various livestock feed additives. What is maltodextrin and is this material allowed for organic production?

By Sam Schaefer-Joel

Maltodextrin molecules are composed of short chains of glucose units. These chains, or polymers, are generally 3 to 17 glucose units in length. Maltodextrin and other short chains of sugars are referred to as oligosaccharides. Commonly spray dried and sold as a powder, maltodextrin may also be purchased in a syrup form dissolved in water.

To make maltodextrin, starches are broken down into much smaller pieces through the use of enzymes or acids. Although both enzymes and acids can be used to cut starch chains into shorter segments, OMRI considers hydrolysis by acid to produce synthetic maltodextrin that would not be allowed for use in a livestock feed for organic production. However, hydrolysis of starch by enzymes is considered to be a natural process creating a nonsynthetic form of maltodextrin.

Not all maltodextrins are identical. Maltodextrins have different functional properties depending on the type of starch from which they are made and the degree of hydrolysis. If starch hydrolysis is allowed to continue to completion, starches will be completely broken down into glucose. Maltodextrins are formed by stopping the hydrolysis reaction at the appropriate time. By carefully controlling the hydrolysis reaction, the size and properties of the final maltodextrin can be determined.

The starch used to make maltodextrin may come from a variety of plants. Grains such as corn, wheat, and rice are often used, as well as starchy tubers like potato and cassava (tapioca). Starch molecules are made of thousands of glucose units linked together into long chains of varying length. Starch contains a mixture of both branched (amylopectin) and unbranched (amylose) polymers. The variety of lengths and degree of branching give different starches distinct functional properties. Likewise, the properties of maltodextrins made from different starches may differ due to the distinct structure of the parent starches from which they are made.

Maltodextrin is commonly used in food processing. The Food Chemicals Codex lists maltodextrin as a stabilizer, thickener, anticaking agent and bulking agent. Maltodextrin may also be used in livestock feed and health care products to provide an easily digestible energy source intermediate between starches and sugars. It may also be used as a carrier, excipient, or microencapsulation agent in formulating probiotics and other health care products. It is important to note that although maltodextrin does not have do be certified organic for use in a health care product; it must be certified organic for use as a livestock feed additive. Livestock producers that wish to use maltodextrin in their organic operation should check with their certifying agent prior to use.

Revised and updated in June 2016 by OMRI Technical Director Johanna Mirenda. This article was originally published in the Spring 2013 edition of the OMRI Materials Review newsletter.