Written by Celia McKeon and Lauren Robinson
Locust bean gum (LBG) is used in everything from ice cream to pâté. Adding richness, body, and stability, it is a highly useful ingredient in the food technologist’s arsenal and has been widely used for decades. However, over the past several years poor crop yield has been leading to a ballooning price tag. The cost for LBG is literally going off the charts, hitting never before seen prices. Despite this, the demand for LBG has not slowed down – in fact, if anything demand has ramped up. The massive growth of plant-based dairy, for example, has driven demand and will continue to do so. Given LBG’s functionality and its clean and consumer-friendly image, many manufacturers have been reluctant to look for alternatives – especially given the cost of replacing labels. With prices unlikely to drop any time soon, businesses must consider their options and determine viable LBG alternatives.
Alternative #1: Tara Gum
Tara gum is, like LBG, a galactomannan that provides viscosity and can be used in various applications. It is a natural additive, obtained by grinding the endosperm of the seeds of the Caesalpinia Spinosa. It provides more viscosity than LBG when used at the same dosage, and also is able to modify carrageenan gels. While LBG has a strong synergistic effect with xanthan gum, Tara gum does not completely match this.
Tara gum is often used to help control ice and lactose crystal growth, making it particularly suited to ice cream applications. It also bolsters freeze-thaw stability, adds mouthfeel and improves water retention. While the cost of Tara gum is also increasing, it is currently around half the price of LBG. Given this, Tara gum can provide relative cost stability and could be considered a close replacement for LBG in various applications.
Alternative #2: Citrus Fibre and Pectin
Citrus fibre is a clean label ingredient that can also match elements of LBG functionality. Like LBG, it adds body, mouthfeel and sheen. As well as this, with a high water binding capacity, this alternative is well suited for use in ice cream and yoghurt applications. Another option could be to combine citrus fibre with pectin to provide a bespoke solution in complex applications. Previously this option has been seen as cost-prohibitive. However, with the increased cost of LBG combined with ongoing availability issues, citrus fibre and pectin combinations are now becoming a more viable alternative.
Alternative #3: Guar Gum
Guar gum is a significantly cheaper option than the first two alternatives we’ve touched on. However, it does have some limitations. Two options are currently available – one an enzymatically modified guar and one a chemically modified guar. Enzymatically modified guar can mimic the properties of LBG quite closely. Similarly, partially hydrolysed guar gum has also been used successfully in ice cream formulations. Naturally, the greater the modification the greater the cost. Nevertheless, guar gum is still typically much more cost-effective than LBG given the current prices.
Alternative #4: Other hydrocolloids & combination hydrocolloid systems
Other hydrocolloids systems have also been considered for replacing LBG. For example, there has been work done on the suitability of Konjac gum as a replacement. As well as this, a combination of various hydrocolloids such as guar, xanthan, agar, carrageenan and acacia gum can also be used to replace LBG. Depending on the application, this approach can be the most effective in matching the many benefits of LBG. This approach allows for a more tailored solution, but it is heavily dependent on the cost in use benefit.
Aside from the options already mentioned, some manufacturers are also considering including ice structuring protein (ISP), psyllium husk and starch combinations, or even using no stabiliser at all. Fundamentally, there is no one right answer for what you should replace LBG with. The correct answer will depend on your application, your process and your budget.
How can we help?
Hawkins Watts works with some of the top global hydrocolloids suppliers, so we are well-positioned to help you determine the most suitable LBG alternatives. We can provide:
- technical support;
- laboratory work specifically for your re-formulation.
Please get in touch if you would like more information about these alternatives, or if you would like tailored advice on how to go about replacing LBG in your formulations.