Why Use Maltodextrin in Food?

Corn syrup is often used in baking.
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Maltodextrin is a food additive the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for its "Generally Recognized as Safe" list. The additive is mixed with a number of foods as a thickening agent, similar to the way corn syrup and sugars are added. Maltodextrin, however, does not have a sweet taste. Its unique chemical makeup make it ideal for adding to foods. Those with celiac disease who should avoid foods with gluten should restrict intake of foods made with certain types of maltodextrin.

Create Bulk

Jello has maltodextrin.
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Maltodextrin is used in food to create bulk in foods that have a liquid or gelatin-like texture. When added to foods such as salad dressings or instant pudding, maltodextrin helps to reduce their viscosity, making them thicker. Other foods that may contain maltodextrin for this purpose include canned fruits, desserts, protein shakes, instant pudding and sauces. If maltodextrin is used to thicken these products, it should be listed on the nutrition label of your food. Because maltodextrin is derived from real food, it does contain calories -- about 4 calories for every gram added.

Crystallize Sugars

Artificial sweetener.
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Maltodextrin is used in artificial sweeteners. This is because it acts as a binding agent, helping to create the crystal-like sugars that are then put into packets. Although maltodextrin does not taste sweet, it is a saccharide, meaning its chemical properties are similar to a sugar.

Food Drying

Chocolate pudding.
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Maltodextrin also is used in foods to turn substances that are liquid or oily into powders. Maltodextrin can have a drying effect on food, which is why it is added to substances like instant pudding to make it a dry, crystal-like substance that can be turned into a thickened mixture with the addition of a liquid.

How It’s Made

Maltodextrin can be made from potatoes.
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Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate and is made from starches. It can be made from rice, potatoes or corn starches. To make maltodextrin, manufacturers cook down these foods. Enzymes released in the cooking process further break down maltodextrin, ultimately leaving a white powder that can be added to foods. While maltodextrin is generally considered a gluten-free food, it can be derived from wheat or barley. If you eat a gluten-free diet, check foods labels to ensure a food does not contain "wheat maltodextrin" -- which signifies the food has gluten.