Maltodextrin is a polymer consisting of multiple glucose units linked together. But what is maltodextrin used for? It’s a food ingredient sourced from starchy sources, including corn, wheat, potatoes, and rice. In the United States, most maltodextrin comes from corn, while Europeans consume maltodextrin primarily from wheat. It’s impossible to know where the maltodextrin in a product was sourced, however, so celiacs and others with gluten intolerances may need to avoid products containing the additive.
Commercially, maltodextrin is created through a hydrolysis process that shortens long-chain lengths into small starches. The chains vary in length from three to 17 glucose units, and are just long enough that they do not become sweet like sugar. Maltodextrin may come from plants, but it’s considered highly processed as the starches must be cooked, and then added to acids or enzymes to break it down further. The goal is to create a water-soluble, white powder with a neutral taste.
Maltodextrins are similar to corn syrup solids, which also go through a process of hydrolysis, except that corn syrup solids are a minimum of 20% sugar and maltodextrin is less than 20% sugar.
The chemical formula of Maltodextrin: C6nH(10n+2)O(5n+1)
What is Maltodextrin Used For?
Most products include maltodextrin to carry flavor and improve the texture, thickness, and taste of the food. If you look at the labels of canned fruits, cereal, instant pudding, snacks, sauces, and salad dressings – you’ll probably find maltodextrin listed as an ingredient. It can also be found in pharmaceuticals as a binding agent, and is often found in sugar substitutes like Splenda or Equal. By itself, the powder is mostly flavorless and non-sweet.
In horticulture, maltodextrin can be used as an insecticide. The solution is sprayed on insects and as the solution dries, it blocks the insects’ ability to breathe, causing asphyxiation.
The three most common functions of maltodextrin include:
- Carrier substance for flavors and high-intensity sweeteners
- Makes products more usable
- Avoids attracting water through absorption
In the adult nutrition, sports nutrition, and health supplement industry, maltodextrin is used because it is an easily digestible carbohydrate. Athletes can experience energy from products containing maltodextrin as it is simply a chain of repeating glucose molecules. Maltodextrin has four calories per gram, similar to the calories in table sugar. Our bodies digest maltodextrin quickly like sugar, as well, so it can provide a quick boost of energy and calories. It’s got a higher GI than table sugar though, ranging somewhere between 106 and 136, which means it can increase blood sugar quickly.
FDA and Maltodextrin
The FDA has labeled maltodextrin as a food additive with the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. When calculating nutritional value of food, labels will include the nutritional value of maltodextrin as part of the total carbohydrate count of the product. Carbohydrates should make up less than 45 to 65% of your total overall calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and of those carbohydrate calories, most should come from fiber-rich, complex carbohydrates as opposed to foods that raise your blood sugar rapidly.