The EU defines food carriers as:
“Substances used to dissolve, dilute, disperse or otherwise physically modify a food additive or a flavouring, food enzyme, nutrient and/or other substance added for nutritional or physiological purposes to a food without altering its function (and without exerting any technological effect themselves) in order to facilitate its handling, application or use.”
Simply put: some food ingredients are known as “compound ingredients” because they consist of several sub-ingredients. These ingredients, such as flavours, vitamins, minerals and fat powders, require a food substance to act as a “carrier” in order for them to be in a form that can be combined with the main ingredients of a food product. Carriers are common in all areas of the food industry.
Carriers are used in the main compound ingredients in Huel products. These include the vitamin-mineral blends, flavour systems, oil powders, emulsifiers, kombucha and probiotics.
All Huel products have a bespoke vitamin-mineral blend that supplies the necessary vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to provide sufficient amounts of micronutrients to ensure Huel products are nutritionally complete. Some micronutrients are required in minute amounts (for example, vitamins A and B12), and because their inclusion is so small, they are produced on a carrier. These smaller components, along with larger micronutrients (for example, vitamin C, choline and calcium), are combined into a single blend matrix as well as another carrier. For some blends, this carrier may itself supply micronutrients; for instance, potassium chloride and potassium citrate act both as a carrier and as a supply of required potassium. For other blends, there will be an additional carrier required to ensure proper blending.
Flavour systems are produced in collaboration with expert flavour houses (read more here) who use their expertise to help us produce the best flavours for Huel products. A carrier is required to deliver the flavour onto the base ingredients in the correct form as functionality is key to producing the right flavour.
The fat powders that are used in Huel products are MCT and sunflower oil powders. The oil is sprayed into a carrier to maintain the oil’s nutritional and aroma properties whilst increasing its versatility and shelf life; you can read more about this process in this article. The same principle applies to the emulsifiers used in Huel products, for example the sunflower lecithin.
Kombucha and probiotics are present in Huel Powder v3.0 and Huel Black Edition and are only required in small amounts; hence they require a carrier.
Maltodextrin, also sometimes known as ‘maltodextrose’ or ‘glucose polymer’, is a complex carbohydrate produced by the partial hydrolysis (breaking down) of any one of a number of natural starches, most often corn or wheat. It is a fine white powder that is dissolvable in water and is either mildly sweet or flavourless. Maltodextrin is found in a number of products where it’s used as a source of easy-to-consume carbohydrate, for example in sports drinks, weight-loss meal replacements, build-up drinks, hospital sip feeds and enteral tube feeds, as well as in soft drinks, confectionery, savoury snacks and jerky.
Maltodextrin is also the most commonly used carrier for compound ingredients due to the fact that it’s easy to produce, highly versatile, easy for liquids to be sprayed on to and dissolvable.
When consumed in large quantities, maltodextrin is digested and absorbed rapidly (it has a high glycaemic index (GI)) so is effectively like a sugar and can cause a spike in blood glucose levels, and consequently insulin levels, and this may have negative long-term health connotations. For this reason, maltodextrin is often viewed negatively when it appears on an ingredient label. However, when present in tiny quantities as a carrier, there is not enough to affect blood glucose levels in any meaningful way.
A number of carriers have been used to make up the compound ingredients in Huel products since our initial launch, namely maltodextrin, xylitol, coconut flour and corn starch. The choice of carrier is down to a number of factors including functionality, shelf life, customer perception and what is available for the compound ingredient in question.
We launched Huel Powder v1.0 using maltodextrin as our main carrier for the vitamin–mineral blend but moved to xylitol in v2.0, a change motivated by customer perception as some customers were put off by maltodextrin. However, some people were equally unhappy with xylitol as they felt it could be associated with stomach discomfort (although this was unlikely at the extremely low level). For Huel Powder v2.3 we moved to coconut flour; the issue with this was that there was a higher (albeit small) risk of microbial contamination and some of our compound ingredient suppliers’ strict protocols meant that they wouldn’t use coconut flour as an ingredient. Furthermore, although coconut flour was the principal carrier in our vitamin–mineral blend, maltodextrin was still present as part of the oil powders and flavour systems.
For Huel Powder v3.0 and Black Edition, the main carrier for the vitamin–mineral blend, the sunflower oil powder and the MCT powder is corn starch. The other compound ingredients use maltodextrin due to its preferable organoleptic and functional properties. All the compound ingredients in Huel Bars and Huel Ready-to-drink use maltodextrin as the carrier due to its favourable functionality. The tiny amount of maltodextrin used in Huel has no adverse effect on its nutritional properties; indeed, its functionality benefits improve the versatility of the compound ingredients. Huel products have been tested for the glycaemic index and all are ‘low GI’ (as detailed here).
The total amount of carriers that are present in Huel products – the cumulative amount from all ingredients – can range from around 0.2% of the final product in the case of Huel Powder Unflavoured & Unsweetened to 3.6% in Huel Powder Vanilla Flavour with other Powder flavours and Huel products ranging in between. The main driver for the amount of carrier is the flavour system and, as vanilla flavouring is required in relatively large amounts, there is more carrier involved.
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