Maltodextrin is a white, powdery substance that is derived from starch. This multi-purpose polysaccharide starts from natural sources such as corn, wheat, rice, or potato. However, it is ultra- processed to arrive in its final form.
It’s commonly used in the food industry as a filler or thickener and is found in a variety of products ranging from snacks and sodas to even pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Maltodextrin is found inside of some Lost Empire Herbs products, so this article is to give you all the in’s and out’s of this common yet misunderstood ingredient. I’ve been meaning to write this article for years but finding out the details on how this ingredient was actually made seemed to be shrouded in secrecy.
How is Maltodextrin Produced?
Starting Material: Natural Starch
The first step in maltodextrin production begins with selecting a starch source. The choice typically depends on regional availability and cost. In the United States, corn is frequently used, whereas European producers may lean towards wheat or potato. The starch from these sources serves as the primary raw material for producing maltodextrin.
Starch Washing and Separation
The raw materials, such as corn kernels, are soaked in water, usually in large tanks. This soaking (or steeping) process softens the kernels and facilitates the subsequent separation of starch, protein, fiber, and germ. After soaking, the raw material is then milled or ground. In the case of corn, it breaks open the kernels. This releases the starch and also creates a mash containing all the components of the kernel.
Proteins can be separated further using screens or sieves. The mash is passed through these screens, which allow smaller starch molecules to pass through but retain larger protein molecules. Additionally, pH adjustments can be made to precipitate proteins out, making them easier to separate. The germ part of grains, especially corn, also contain oil (lipids). After the initial separation processes, the germ is usually processed further to extract this oil. This is done through pressing and solvent extraction methods. The remaining defatted germ can be used for various purposes, including animal feed.
The starch slurry, which still contains some impurities, is washed multiple times with fresh water. This helps to remove any residual proteins, lipids, and other soluble impurities. Centrifugation might be repeated several times to ensure the separation of pure starch.
Once the starch source is selected and processed to a state where it’s mostly free of proteins and lipids, it’s subjected to a process called liquefaction. In this process, water and the starch slurry are combined and heated to a specific temperature. Enzymes, primarily alpha-amylase, are added at this stage.
Alpha-amylase breaks the long-chain molecules of the native starch into shorter chains. This enzymatic process effectively liquefies the starch, making it more manageable and less viscous, setting the stage for further hydrolysis. The ultimate goal is to achieve as pure a starch source as possible, ensuring the final maltodextrin product is of high quality and free from unwanted contaminants.
Following liquefaction, the slurry undergoes a more detailed hydrolysis process. Hydrochloric acid or another suitable enzyme (like glucoamylase) is introduced to break the shorter chains into even smaller oligosaccharides. The length of the hydrolysis process and the specific conditions used (e.g., pH, temperature, and the type of acid or enzyme) determine the dextrose equivalent (DE) of the maltodextrin product.
The dextrose equivalent is a measure of the degree of starch conversion and its reducing sugar content. A higher DE means a sweeter taste and a lower molecular weight. Maltodextrins generally have a DE less than 20, which ensures they aren’t overly sweet and maintain some of the desired thickening properties.
Post hydrolysis, the slurry contains maltodextrin along with some other components like minerals, residual sugars, or unconverted starch. To purify the product, manufacturers use a series of refining processes:
- Filtration: To remove large solid residues.
- Ion-exchange: This step removes unwanted mineral ions. The slurry passes through a column containing ion-exchange resins, which capture mineral ions and replace them with hydrogen and hydroxide ions.
- Carbon treatment: This process removes color and any remaining organic impurities. The slurry is treated with activated carbon, which binds with the impurities and is later separated out.
Concentration and Drying
The refined maltodextrin solution is still primarily water. For it to be transformed into a usable powdered form, it needs to be concentrated and dried. Using evaporators, water is removed from the solution to increase the maltodextrin concentration.
Spray drying is the most critical step in achieving the powdered form of maltodextrin. The concentrated solution is sprayed into a hot air chamber, which instantly evaporates the remaining water, leaving behind fine maltodextrin particles. These particles are then collected at the bottom of the chamber.
Quality Control and Packaging
Before the final product is packaged and distributed, it goes through stringent quality control tests to ensure purity, DE level consistency, and other vital parameters. Once approved, the maltodextrin powder is packed into moisture-proof bags or containers to preserve its quality and shelf life.
Where is Maltodextrin in Your Diet?
As mentioned, maltodextrin is found in many foods and drinks. Here’s a list of common places you may find it:
- Snack Foods: Such as chips, crackers, and popcorn.
- Confectionery and Sweets: Candy, chocolates, and gummy snacks often contain maltodextrin.
- Cereals: Both hot and cold varieties.
- Energy Bars and Protein Bars: Maltodextrin may be used as a carbohydrate source or to provide texture.
- Sports Drinks: Used to provide a quick source of energy.
- Sauces & Salad Dressings: As a thickener or stabilizer.
- Instant Soups and Noodles: Helps in improving the texture.
- Baked Goods: Such as bread, pastries, and cookies.
- Frozen Desserts: Like certain types of ice cream and sorbets.
- Powdered Drink Mixes: Hot cocoa mixes, instant coffee mixes, and some flavored drink powders.
- Baby Foods: Maltodextrin can be found in certain formulas and processed baby foods.
- Meal Replacement Shakes: To provide energy and improve consistency.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Some granulated sugar substitutes like Splenda use maltodextrin as a bulking agent.
- Spice Mixes: To prevent clumping and improve flow.
- Brewing: Maltodextrin is sometimes used in beer making.
- Medications and Pills: As a filler or binding agent.
If you’re trying to avoid maltodextrin, it’s essential to read product labels carefully. Manufacturers are required to list maltodextrin in the ingredients if it’s used in a food product. However, in some cases, maltodextrin might be an ingredient within another ingredient and not explicitly listed on the final product’s label. This is especially true for compound ingredients where maltodextrin might be used in a sub-ingredient but is not one of the primary ingredients in the final product.
For example, if a manufacturer uses a cocoa powder in a candy that contains maltodextrin, but maltodextrin isn’t added directly to the candy itself, then the final ingredient list for the candy might just list “cocoa” without breaking down cocoa’s individual components.
Even many foods found in health food stores will be found to have maltodextrin. Here’s the label from a bag of chips where it is listed not once, but twice. (And yes still they list this as Paleo!)
What are the Health Concerns of Maltodextrin?
While maltodextrin is generally recognized as safe by the FDA (as if they’re an organization that you can trust about health! See Medical Monopoly Musings for details), there are growing concerns about its association with chronic inflammatory diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome.
Research into the effects of maltodextrin on the gut microbiome is still emerging, and there are not yet definitive conclusions. However, some studies and observations provide insights:
Recent studies have raised questions about maltodextrin’s safety, particularly concerning its impact on gut health. One study discovered that maltodextrin could promote intestinal inflammation.
Maltodextrin may alter the gut’s protective mucus layer. It has also been observed to favor biofilm formation by certain disease-causing bacteria and possibly affect the gut microbiota.
However, it’s essential to highlight that these effects might not be universal for everyone, and has not been widely studied. Still, maltodextrin side effects could be more pronounced in individuals predisposed to certain conditions.
Still, if we go by the rule of thumb that ultraprocessed foods are not going to be supportive of health, it would be best to avoid or limit usage.
In addition, most maltodextrin is going to be derived from pesticide-laden and/or GMO ingredients. Theoretically, the purification processes should eliminate all issues from those things, but that may not be the case.
How and Why is Maltodextrin Used in Herbal and Other Supplements?
In the world of herbal supplements, maltodextrin holds a unique position. It serves as a filler, making it easier to produce supplements in bulk.
Sometimes maltodextrin is used to help in improving the texture and consistency of the supplement, making it more palatable and easier to consume.
In addition, it is used in a spray drying process that is used to turn a liquid supplement into a powder form. This is the primary way that it is used for some Lost Empire Herbs products (see below).
Should the Supplement Consumers (that means YOU) be Overly Concerned About Maltodextrin?
While the potential health concerns related to maltodextrin can’t be entirely dismissed, it’s also crucial to contextualize them within an individual’s overall diet and health.
I will be the first to admit, ideally, it would be great to not have any maltodextrin in your food or supplements.
However, you need to understand the principle of Net Benefit. A little maltodextrin in an herbal supplement is not going to outweigh the good it could do for you.
Plus most people do not eat 100% clean diets. Is all the food you eat organic or better? Is there zero ultraprocessed food in your diet? If not, then you may already be getting maltodextrin in your diet, not to mention hundreds of even thousands of other compounds that are likely worse.
While it’s a good idea to be informed and cautious about anything we put into our bodies, it’s also essential to maintain a balanced perspective with something like this. Still we want you to be fully informed.
Which of Lost Empire Herbs Supplements Contain Maltodextrin?
This information has always been listed on the product pages. As for our individual herbs:
- Seabuckthorn Berry Powder – Around 8% of Organic, Non-GMO Rice Maltodextrin
- Nettle Root Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- He Shou Wu Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Ant Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Horny Goat Weed Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Albizia Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Ziziphus Extract Powder – 10% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
Due to the ingredients being from some of the above, each of our formulas contains some amount of maltodextrin. This includes:
- Thor’s Hammer – 5.5% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Phoenix – 5% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Athena – 5.5% or less of Non-GMO Corn and Rice Maltodextrin
- Spartan – 6.6% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
- Hercules – 6.25% or less of Non-GMO Corn Maltodextrin
Which of Lost Empire Herbs Supplements Do NOT Contain Maltodextrin?
The following herbs do not have any maltodextrin in them.
- Pine Pollen
- Both Shilajits
- All Medicinal Mushrooms
- Tongkat Ali
- Beet Juice Powder
- Pearl Powder
Note: ALL the tinctures are free of Maltodextrin.
Our Goji (juice powder) used to have maltodextrin but we found another supplier that had a better form (freeze dried) that did not include it so we made the switch. If we find others we may do the same. That’s our commitment to getting the best stuff we can.
There are also some interesting details like the Elderberry used to have less than 5% organic maltodextrin, however they improved their membrane extraction process so that it hasn’t been needed recently.
If you are specifically looking to avoid maltodextrin you can now more easily make your choices. There are things to select like using the He Shou Wu Spagyric Tincture instead of the powdered extract that make this possible.
This article is about both our commitment to quality and transparency. If you have any questions ask them below.