Pectins belong to the core competences of the Herbstreith & Fox Corporate Group. In the field of food production pectins are, among others, known as gelling agents. In the past decades, their use has increasingly expanded to include the field of food additives that provide an additional nutritional benefit.
Pectins belong to the group of soluble dietary fibre and are associated in the plant cells with celluloses, hemicelluloses and lignin. In this matrix they provide the plant cells with the necessary stability. In this native form the pectin is known as protopectin. Unripe fruits have a very high protopectin content. When the ripening process begins, the cellulose-hemicellulose-protopectin-complex is gradually weakened and protopectin turns into pectin. It is only in this free, unassociated form that pectin demonstrates its known mechanisms of action. The gelling effect of pectins is the best known of these.
(Excursus: Gelling mechanisms in pectins)
A gel is only stable in a narrowly defined environment. In the case of high methyl ester pectins an increase of the pH value to over 5 already suffices in order to break the 3-dimensional gel down again.
With this in mind, the statement “pectins gel in the digestive tract and form a stable gel there” is not correct.
In most cases, high methyl ester pectins are used in animal nutrition. For stable gelation, high methyl ester pectins require defined high Brix contents and a low pH value. Apart from the fact that, under normal feeding conditions, a high Brix solution could hardly occur in the stomach of the farm animal, a gel generated there would immediately be destroyed in the small intestine as this is the site of a massive pH increase of far beyond 7.
Particularly in the case of digestive disorders the effect of pectin on humans is well known. Classic household remedies, such as grated apple to combat diarrhoea, are based on the effects of pectin. With mechanical processing, the pectin stored in the cell walls becomes available and can alleviate the physical complaints in unspecific cases of diarrhoea.
These positive effects on diarrhoea are also used in animal nutrition or in the treatment of animals suffering from diarrhoea. Therefore, many special feeds and dietary drinks for piglets, calves and pets contain pectin.
However – pectin is not the same as pectin
As already described, native pectin is primarily present in fruits as protopectin. In addition to this, depending on its origin (apple, citrus fruit and sugar beet) the properties of pectin vary considerably. Therefore it does not suffice to use straight feedstuffs containing pectin in such feeding concepts.
Only extracted pectin is fully bioavailable / digestible and can thus unfold its positive effects in the digestive tract.