We come across a lot of terminology here at Bob’s Red Mill, and there are new terms coming out every single day when it comes to healthy food labeling. With the increase in awareness surrounding natural foods, as well as a rise in diagnosing some food-related intolerances, these new foods and categories can provide some confusion, especially to those who need to follow a specific diet to remain healthy and pain-free! One term that we see sometimes is dextrin, and to be completely honest, there is not a lot of information out there about dextrin that is not incredibly dense and scientific. So today, we have taken a lot of this dense information and broken it down into all the whys, hows and whats that come along with eating (or not eating!) dextrin. Keep reading to learn everything you will need to know about dextrin and whether or not it should be in your diet!
What Is Dextrin?
So first of all, we should figure out what the heck dextrin is. Actually, dextrins are a category that includes several different carbohydrate strains that are produced by the hydrolysis of starch. Okay, what? Yep, this can be pretty confusing, so we will try to break it down for you. Starches are complex carbohydrates that are made up of mostly sugar molecules. Starches are mostly found in plants, specifically many of our staple foods like potatoes, corn and rice, and are created as a source of energy. They are actually the most common form of carbohydrates found in most human diets. Hydrolysis is a process that uses water to break down molecules into smaller molecules. So basically, you take a long strain of sugars (a starch) and break it down by adding water, and the smaller resulting strains are known as dextrins. Phew, that was a lot of information! Still with us?
Types of Dextrin
Dextrins can be made from almost any starch source, like corn, wheat or potatoes. Dextrins are classified into a few different types: typically white dextrins, yellow or canary dextrins or British gums. They are all water-soluble solutions and are typically less viscous than the starch that they came from (potato or wheat, for instance). There are several different uses for dextrins. One of the most popular is in the adhesive industry. Because of their water solubility, dextrins are ideal for water-activated adhesives and glues (think postage stamps and envelopes, where you lick them to activate the adhesive properties). Dextrins are also used to print on cotton fabrics in the textile industry! White dextrins alone are used in the food industry. These are typically created by a combination of acid and water during hydrolysis.
How Are Dextrins Formed?
Dextrins are usually a byproduct or intermediate product of other processes, such as cooking or enzyme activation. The most common example of this is the crispy brown part on the top of fresh-baked bread. The exact properties of your dextrin will rely heavily on what type of starch it was formed from, so wheat dextrin, for instance, will have very different reactions and properties than corn dextrin or potato dextrin. Wheat dextrin is a popular example and is a byproduct of the process that extracts gluten proteins from wheat. The wheat starch gets sprayed with an acid solution and then it is suspended in water. After a while, the wheat starch gets roasted until it is dry, and then it has officially been converted into dextrin and is packaged and ready to go!
What Is Dextrin Used For?
We mentioned earlier that white dextrins are the only ones used in the food industry, and that is true. You may be surprised at how many foods contain dextrin when you start checking out your labels! For something you may not have heard of, this stuff is all over the supermarket shelves! Wheat dextrin is used to thicken many products in the food industry, such as soups or stews, or even baby foods! This is also a popular ingredient to replace fats in low-calorie foods, so if you start reading the labels at health food stores, you will probably start seeing this word a lot!
Wheat dextrin specifically is a great source of fiber, and more specifically, soluble fiber. There are many differences between soluble and insoluble fiber, but the basic lesson is that soluble fiber digests easily and quickly and helps attach to things like bad cholesterol on the way out, so it helps lower the bad cholesterol in your system! In short, soluble fiber is great for you! There are so many health benefits associated with a high fiber diet that we will explore in a minute. Just know that dextrin is often used as a popular fiber supplement!
Another popular use for dextrin in foods is to make foods crispy or as a coating: we mentioned the crispy brown part on the top of bread earlier, and this is a perfect example. Dextrin gives fried foods that extra-brown, crispy texture as well. We all love a good home-cooked fried chicken--give credit to dextrin for that flaky, delicious skin!
Is Dextrin Gluten Free?
We’ve talked about wheat dextrin a good bit, so it may be on your mind to ask whether dextrin is gluten-free or not. The truth is, a lot of dextrin in food is made from non-wheat sources, like tapioca, rice, or potatoes. In these cases, you will be absolutely safe from any gluten particles, so if you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, then you have no need to worry about these types of dextrin. Wheat dextrin, in some cases, will have the gluten processed out of it, so you should not have to worry. In some cases, however, the gluten may still remain in the dextrin in a larger quantity than is allowed. In these cases, the manufacturer is required to use the word “wheat” on their ingredients or includes list, though, so if you are gluten sensitive or have Celiac Disease, then you should not worry about dextrin on an ingredient list unless it contains the word wheat as well!
Health Benefits of Dextrin
There are several health benefits of dextrin, not only because it is a high source of soluble fiber. A high fiber diet has been linked to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, better skin health, higher bone density, and lower cholesterol. Fiber is considered a natural detoxifier, and most cancers have been linked to more toxic inner environments, so fiber has in some cases been linked to lower risk of cancers like colon and liver cancer. Fiber keeps your bowel movements regular, as well as speeding up digestion and easing the flow of everything you eat through your system - from start to...well, finish. Fiber also allows your body to absorb nutrients more smoothly and helps flush out bad things without allowing them to sit in your body for too long. If this is not enough to convince you, there are studies that show those with a high fiber diet live longer and have better general overall health than those who do not have a high fiber diet.
In addition to being an amazing source of fiber, dextrin is also considered a prebiotic. You may have heard of PRObiotics, and these feed on prebiotics, so by consuming dextrin, you are increasing the health and effectiveness of your probiotics, which assist in digestive issues and help maintain homeostasis in your stomach! Dextrins have also been shown to decrease triglyceride levels, which can increase your risk of strokes and heart disease. Consuming dextrin can help reduce the glycemic index of your meal, which helps you maintain healthy blood sugar levels - this is especially important for diabetics! Basically, consuming dextrin can help almost every system in your body to function more properly, and it helps you avoid toxification and a negative environment. If you are not sure about where to get more dextrin in your diet, try out a fiber supplement as this is a really common ingredient!
Dextrin is definitely one of the more scientifically-dense terms in the healthy eating dictionary, but it provides a myriad of health benefits to treat your body right. You may also see other words that look like dextrin on your ingredients list, such as dextrose, maltodextrin, and amylodextrin. Some of these are other names for types of dextrin, but some of these are not, so make sure you do a little research before consuming new products! If you enjoy a crispy french fry or piece of freshly baked bread then you are likely enjoying some dextrin produced during the cooking process. This will provide a ton of health benefits for you and help you with your high fiber diet if that is your goal. If you are gluten-free, then just be careful about exactly what type of dextrin you eat! And comment below with your thoughts on dextrin, and tell us what you would like us to explore more in the future.