What are Thickeners?
Thickeners are substances used in food production to increase the viscosity of a liquid without significantly altering its other properties. They are typically used in a wide range of products, from sauces and soups to desserts and beverages, to achieve a desirable texture and consistency. Examples of common thickeners include cornstarch, agar-agar, pectin, and gelatin.
How are Thickeners Made?
The production process for thickeners varies widely based on their type. Many thickeners, such as cornstarch or pectin, are derived from plants. Others, like gelatin, are obtained from animal sources. Certain thickeners, like xanthan gum or carrageenan, are produced through a fermentation process or extracted from seaweed.
Are Thickeners Vegan?
The question of whether thickeners are vegan depends entirely on the specific thickening agent used. Many common thickeners like cornstarch, agar-agar (a seaweed-derived substitute for gelatin), pectin (commonly used in jellies and jams), and certain gums (like xanthan gum) are plant-based and therefore vegan.
However, some thickeners are derived from animal sources and are not suitable for a vegan diet. For instance, gelatin, a common thickener used in gummies, marshmallows, and certain dairy products, is derived from animal collagen, often from pig skin, bovine hides, and cattle bones.
Thickeners in a Vegan Diet
Thickeners, particularly plant-based ones, play a significant role in vegan cooking and food preparation. They can help create creamy sauces, perfect pudding textures, and help baked goods hold together without eggs.
While many thickeners are plant-based, it’s essential for those following a vegan diet to carefully check the ingredient list on food labels. If a non-specific term like “food starch,” “thickeners,” or “gelling agents” is used, further investigation may be necessary to determine the source of these ingredients.
In summary, while many thickeners are vegan, others are not, and it’s crucial to check the ingredients and potentially contact the manufacturer for clarification. Thankfully, there is an abundance of vegan-friendly thickeners on the market, making it easier for those on a vegan diet to enjoy a variety of foods with the desired texture and consistency.