The world is currently undergoing a general shortage of inulin and oligofructose (fructooligosaccharides) coming from chicory. Climate conditions in Europe and South America have led to poor chicory harvests and the Coronavirus has impacted the production and supply chain for inulin in a negative way.
While chicory is surely the most popular industrial source for inulin, there are other important and reliable alternatives that have not been affected by the shortage: artichokes and blue agave.
Although they are more expensive than chicory, they are a great source of inulin and depend less on the season and storage.
What is inulin?
Inulin has been part of our daily diet for hundreds of years as it is contained in many fruits and vegetables such as bananas, onions and wheat. Inulin is a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants.
It is a type of dietary fiber belonging to the family of fructans (polyfructosylsucrose), an important storage carbohydrate found in approximately 15% of the flowering plant species.
Inulin is also a prebiotic. It feeds good bacteria in the gut - thus providing several health benefits such as improving digestive health, helping control diabetes, aiding weight loss, and improving mineral absorption and bone health.
Inulin is wildly used in food and beverage, dairy products, dietary supplements, feed etc. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved inulin as a dietary fiber ingredient used to improve the nutritional value of manufactured food products.
Alternative sources to chicory: artichokes and agave
Inulin occurs naturally in more than 36,000 plants, which use it as an energy reservoir and for cold temperature resistance.
Besides the main industrial source, chicory, other plants from which inulin is extracted are Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) and Blue Agave (Agave tequilana). Jerusalem artichoke is the main raw material for inulin in China. The inulin is produced by washing, crushing, extracting membrane filtration, and spray drying to produce it in its powder form.
Another very interesting source is blue agave: agave inulin has a mildly sweet and clean flavor. Blue agave inulin is a nutritious and highly soluble sweetener that can be used to replace sugar in many foods and beverages. Blue agave inulin is known for its potential intestinal health and blood sugar benefits, among others. Inulin has a very low impact on blood sugar levels thanks to its glycemic index (IG) and is therefore a good choice for diabetics.
Main applications of inulin
Because of the many functions of inulin, it can be successfully used in many food and beverage applications including dairy, bakery, cereals and cereal bars, infant nutrition, beverages, confectionery, ice cream, savory and nutritious foods. Inulin from artichokes and blue agave is a good alternative to chicory inulin in these different applications.
Faravelli Inc is the US subsidiary of Faravelli, an Italian company which began operating in its native Italy in 1926, before going on to establish a presence in North America in 2014. If you're interested in exploring inulin from these two alternative sources, contact Faravelli Inc.