Interest in methylcellulose intensifies in EU

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Novel foods Carbohydrate

DWC wants to market methylcellulose for foods such as ice cream
DWC wants to market methylcellulose for foods such as ice cream
EU dairy and beverage manufacturers may have access to another form of the dietary fibre methylcellulose, which induces feelings of fullness ­– or satiety – if a novel foods application by Dow Wolff Cellulosics (DWC) succeeds.

The Swiss ingredients giant employs 1,200 people, operates 10 manufacturing sites and 15 research and development facilities and now has customers in 160 countries across the globe. It has applied to the UK’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) to market the hydrocolloid methylcellulose as a novel food ingredient in a range of foods. These include ice cream; flavoured milk drinks; cold desserts; smoothie-type beverages, yoghurts and yoghurt drinks; and wet soups with a methylcellulose concentration of up to 2%.

In its Novel Foods application, Dow states: “Following a safety evaluation, the intent is to market methylcellulose as a novel food ingredient under the Satisfit and Methocel trade name umbrella.”

Already approved as additive ...

Methylcellulose is already approved for use in the EU as an emulsifier, stabiliser and thickener, but EU rules require it to gain Novel Foods approval for use if it is derived from a novel source.

The applicant’s methylcellulose has the polymeric backbone of cellulose (obtained from plant material), a natural carbohydrate that contains a basic repeating structure of anhydroglucose units joined by 1-4 linkages. Each anhydroglucose unit contains hydroxyl groups at the 2,3 and 6 positions. Substitution of these hydroxyl groups creates a range of cellulose derivatives, including methylcellulose. The ACNFP is inviting comments on its draft opinion by Friday 25 May 2012.

... but still needs approval

However, in its application Dow states: “Dow is currently selling methylcellulose as E461, which is derived from the same material (softwood). The approval for marketing methylcellulose in the EU only applies to its use for technological purposes in foodstuffs.

“Dow’s different grades of methylcellulose, which gel at different temperatures, are the same substance as specified in the purity criteria for methylcellulose as a food additive (E 461). Only the distribution of the polymer backbone is different so methylcellulose can gel in vitro in water at temperature as low as 31°C instead of 50°C for traditional methylcellulose.

“Methylcellulose does not have a significant history of consumption within the EU as a food ingredient before 15 May 1997. It would therefore be considered a novel food ingredient.”

DWC is a business unit of the Dow Chemical Company, which clocked up $60bn in sales, employed 5,000 people and had customers in 160 countries in 2011. The current move accords with Dow’s stated aims to grow its methylcellulose business, having launched DWC on July 1, 2007 and established a dedicated methylcellulose facility in Bitterfeld, Germany.

Alien slime

Researchers at the University of Nottingham, among others, recently looked into the properties of methylcellulose, which can be dissolved in cold water, but precipitates out as a solid when heated. The substance is commonly derived from wood pulp or cotton and produces a gooey paste. It has been used extensively in the special effects industry as the ectoplasm produced by ghosts in Ghostbusters and the slime produced by aliens in the film Alien and subsequent sequels.

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