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Demystifying Isomalto-Oligosaccharides (IMOs): A Complete Overview

The World Health Organization (WHO), in their recent ground-breaking guidelines, advised against the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) for weight control and reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). A systematic review found no long-term benefits in reducing body fat with NSS and indicated potential risks such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It is essential to emphasize that IMOs (Isomalto-Oligosaccharides), in contrast, are a naturally occurring type of sweetener with minimal sugar content. They have a longstanding history of being utilized as prebiotic fiber sweeteners in Asian cuisine for over three decades. IMOs, with approximately 50% of the sweetness of sugars, are regarded as a low-calorie carbohydrate source. Multiple well-controlled randomized trials have consistently shown that IMO is safe and well-tolerated by individuals.


In the dynamic realm of functional foods and beverages, where innovation knows no bounds, IMOs stand out as one of the most buzz-worthy ingredients. IMOs’ unique properties and versatility makes them a powerhouse ingredient in the world of food and beverage formulation. In this article, we will explore the exciting world of IMOs and how they can enhance the texture, taste and overall quality of food and beverages. Get ready to unwrap the secrets of this incredible ingredient!


What are IMOs?


Oligosaccharides are carbohydrate chains typically containing 3 to 10 sugar (monosaccharide) units joined together by glycosidic bonds, sometimes including disaccharides and smaller chains than polysaccharides. Oligosaccharides can be found naturally in various foods. IMOs, which occur naturally in various fermented foods such as miso, sake, soy sauce, and sourdough, as well as honey, are glucosyl saccharides that contain one or more α -1,6-glycosidic linkages sometimes accompanied by α-1,4, α-1,3 and/or α-1,2 linked glycosidic bonds. The production of commercial IMOs is primarily derived from a diverse range of starch sources. These commercially available IMOs are a mixture of oligosaccharides with the main degrees of polymerization (DPs) ranging from 2 to 102.


How to Make Soluble IMOs from Insoluble Starch?


Commercial IMOs are produced through advanced enzymatic processes. The starting material used is starch, a complex arrangement of glucose molecules linked together primarily through alpha-1,4 glycosidic linkages which are easily broken down by digestive enzymes in the body. As shown in Figure 1, the starch polysaccharides can be enzymatically broken down by α-amylase(s) into smaller glucose chains, such as dextrins, maltodextrins, and smaller malto-oligosaccharides. Next, with the aid of a cutting-edge enzyme called α-transglucosidase, the glucose units are reassembled with slowly digestible alpha-1,6 glycosidic bonds. Downstream purification steps ensure the production of high-quality IMOs. The end-product can be obtained in either syrupy or powder forms, ready for use in various applications. This innovative enzymatic process allows for the conversion of insoluble starch into soluble IMOs, providing a versatile ingredient for multiple industries.

The main enzymatic process of manufacturing commercial IMO
Figure 1: The main enzymatic process of manufacturing commercial IMO

What is VitaFiber® IMO?


As the exclusive producer of VitaFiber® IMO in North America, BioNuetra North America Inc. proudly manufactures this exceptional product using its patented process. With a focus on utilizing high purity starch (98 to 99% on a dry basis), the primary sources of starch for VitaFiber® IMO are tapioca, pea and corn for their quality and popularity. Employing BioNeutra’s patented manufacturing process, VitaFiber® IMO is produced as a remarkably pure IMO substance, with less than 3% of glucose and over 90% IMOs (on a dry basis), regardless of the starch source used. It boasts a rich prebiotic fiber content* and a lower calorie* profile.


VitaFiber® IMO has triumphantly secured the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) designation from USA FDA and the Novel Food Ingredient and Dietary Fiber statuses by Health Canada. It has also gained the stamp of approval from EFSA as a revolutionary Novel Food Ingredient. Not only that, VitaFiber® IMO has also been granted the NPN number by Health Canada, solidifying its exceptional status in the world of nutritional ingredients.


Importantly, VitaFiber® IMO's caloric value and soluble dietary fiber content are derived solely from its own component profiles. With the added advantage of its convenient powder format, VitaFiber® IMO becomes the perfect complement for a diverse array of functional foods, dietary supplements, and an assortment of health-boosting products.

VitaFiber® IMO syrup on a kitchen counter next to a homemade fruit juice
Figure 2: VitaFiber® IMO Syrup

What are IMOs Used for?


In a world where innovation reigns supreme, IMOs have emerged as the game-changing ingredient revolutionizing the food and beverage industry. With its unparalleled versatility, IMOs seamlessly integrate into a wide array of products, such as baked goods, confectionery, snack bars, frozen dairy, nutritional supplements, beverages, chocolates, and so much more5. They bring a whole new level of texture, taste, and nutritional value to the table. From mouth-watering baked goods to indulgent confectionery, from satisfying snack bars to delightful frozen dairy treats, IMOs are the ultimate choice for manufacturers who want to stay at the forefront and cater to the ever-evolving desires of discerning consumers.


Keep your eyes peeled for our next article on the blog, where we dive deep into IMOs’ incredible array of benefits. Discover how this exceptional ingredient can transform your favorite foods and beverages into healthier, tastier versions without compromising on flavor. We'll unveil the secrets behind their lower calorie* sweetening power, their prebiotic* and soluble dietary fiber* content, and how they contributes to your overall well-being. Stay tuned for an enlightening exploration of the wonders of IMOs and get ready to unlock a world of delicious possibilities. Don't miss out on the chance to enhance your culinary creations and embrace a new level of enjoyment with the remarkable benefits of IMOs!


*Disclaimer: The claims and regulatory approvals mentioned in this material are subject to variation based on the country/region/jurisdiction.


References

  1. World Health Organization: WHO. (2023, May 15). WHO advises not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control in newly released guideline. World Health Organization. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news/item/15-05-2023-who-advises-not-to-use-non-sugar-sweeteners-for-weight-control-in-newly-released-guideline

  2. Goffin, D., Delzenne, N. M., Blecker, C., Hanon, E., Deroanne, C., & Paquot, M. (2011). Will Isomalto-Oligosaccharides, a Well-Established Functional Food in Asia, Break through the European and American Market? The Status of Knowledge on these Prebiotics. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 51(5), 394–409. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408391003628955

  3. Tungland, B. C., & Meyer, D. A. (2002). Nondigestible Oligo- and Polysaccharides (Dietary Fiber): Their Physiology and Role in Human Health and Food. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 1(3), 90–109. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2002.tb00009.x

  4. Sorndech, W., Nakorn, K. N., Tongta, S., & Blennow, A. (2018). Isomalto-oligosaccharides: Recent insights in production technology and their use for food and medical applications. Lebensmittel-Wissenschaft & Technologie, 95, 135–142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lwt.2018.04.098

  5. Singla, V., & Chakkaravarthi, S. (2017). Applications of prebiotics in food industry: A review. Food Science and Technology International, 23(8), 649–667. https://doi.org/10.1177/1082013217721769




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