Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 91: Learn how processed food is made, Part 2

Today's processed food lesson: What is maltodextrin? My favorite smoked almonds have this stuff on them and I wondered what it is.

Maltodextrin is an umbrella term for a highly processed saccharide polymer derived from starch (corn, potato, rice, or less commonly, wheat). There are lots of these sugar-like things made from different starches. They are called dextrose, generically. But they can also be called things like "rice sugar" or "wheat sugar" or "corn syrup" on a label. [1]

Maltodextrin appears as a powder. It is absorbed in your body like glucose. If a factory takes the corn starch they would normally make corn syrup out of, and they just cook it a little less, it is maltodextrin [2].

Maltodextrins are classified by their "DE" or "dextrose equivalent" number. The numbers are usually between 3 and 20. A higher number means the glucose chains are shorter and the product is sweeter.

Maltodextrin can also be used as a thickener. It is on some peanut butters as a fat replacer. [2]

I have no information on why it's on these nuts, but here's my theory: These almonds are coated in some powdery, spicy, salty junk to make them taste delicious. I think the maltodextrin is in that mixture to make it have the right mouthfeel and to hold the spices and salt. Just my guess.

I really don't need to be eating that. I guess compared to a Twinkie, a jalapeno smoked almond is closer to "real" food, but really, wouldn't a plain almond be good too? Or just a roasted, salted almond?

[1] Sugar Association web page.
[2] Ettlinger, Steve. 2007. Twinkie, Deconstructed. p. 64.

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