Dextran is a hydrocolloid made using microbial fermentation and was one of the first water-soluble gums.
A linear polysaccharide made up of many glucose molecules joined as chains of varying length, it was also one of the first microbial polysaccharides to be commercialised and to be approved for use in food.
Headquartered in the Ancona region in Italy, biotech company Bioerg has developed a method of producing dextran that is more functional and "at least" 10 times cheaper than standard pharma-grade dextran.
Bioerg is a team of two, run by Gulia Cinti PhD, who leads process development as well as marketing and sales, and Alessandra Micozzi PhD, who is responsible for business administration and product innovation.
Cinti told FoodNavigator: “Until now, dextran - the one with low molecular weight and branched - was mainly utilised by pharma industry and with a high price. Our dextran, Nextdext, is a high molecular weight dextran (around 2*10^6 Da), mainly linear in shape, and due to its low price it should be used in food and nutraceutical industries. This is, right away, a new and competitive marketing concept.”
“We started to work with our own strain in 2011 and after three years of scientific investigations decided, through an international patent from 2014, to globally protect the strain and the fermentation method to produce high quantities of high molecular weight dextran.”
According to Cinti, the main application of Nextdext is the gluten-free industry which can be used by manufacturers to improve the rheology and texture and extend the shelf-life.
However, it has a range of functionalities and can also be used as a thickener, emulsifier, stabiliser, fat-replacer, prebiotic substrate and probiotic carrier, as well as for microencapsulation.
Adding dextran to bakery products improves softness, crumb texture and loaf volume. It can also be used as a stabiliser for confectionery to prevent crystallisation, improve moisture retention, increase viscosity and maintain flavour attributes.
In reduced-fat cheeses, which tend to have a rubbery texture due to the high casein content, dextran can increase moisture by binding with water thus improving the texture.
The start-up is already supplying to several customers globally, primarily in the food industry, and is capable of producing 60 tonnes in powder form and up to 15 tonnes of liquid dextran a year.
Thanks to the potential of Nextdext, Bioerg has been selected to take part in the Rome-based Start-up Bootcamp accelerator programme, and will be at Start-up Bootcamp’s Demo Day at Parisian start-up hub Station F in November.
“[It’s] a big opportunity to build up a strong network of companies and people for growing faster into the food world,” Cinti said.
Made through a fermentation process, the ingredient can be listed as alpha-glucan or dextran on ingredient lists.
Cinti said the ingredient is not considered a novel food. “We already have a legal declaration and we are waiting for an official declaration [from] the Italian Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS).”