|The chicory plant dates back to ancient Egypt, when it was used to aid in digestive health.
Chicory root’s ability to help achieve that balance is what caught the eye of Shasha Navazesh, CEO of Shasha Co., an artisan bakery in Toronto. Shasha Co. is heavily focused on research and development that strives to make their products healthier while ensuring they can be broken down easily in the digestive system. Chicory root inulin is exactly the type of ingredient Navazesh looks for.
“The inulin is not absorbed through the small intestine, so it passes through to the large intestine where it keeps your flora – the gut bacterium – healthy, and that’s why people are interested in it,” he says.
Adapting existing recipes to include inulin does take some time. The additive reacts differently with various ingredients. Navazesh has been working with inulin for more than three years, and currently uses inulin in Shasha Co.’s Buckwheat Snacks, a raw product that launched in February.
“It’s a beautiful product as far as fibre and the support of the bacteria in your gut is concerned, but it does have some other functionality in the formulas,” Navazesh says. “It makes things sweeter. It creates crust. It makes things a little drier and it also has a binding agent, so it binds very quickly when you put a liquid to it. It gums. These are a few characteristics, but generally one has to see how it reacts depending on what application you use it for because it’s very diverse.”
Side-effects associated with chicory root inulin are similar to those of other high-fibre ingredients. These include excessive gassiness and bloating. Although some people do not experience any side-effects from inulin, others have described flatulent-filled nights in which entire families were sent running for the door.
Dr. Erin Wiley, a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and co-founder and clinic director of Toronto’s Integrative Health Institute, explains the science behind soluble fibre’s effect on the body.
“If you are taking a therapeutic dose of fibre, as determined by your naturopathic doctor or health-care provider, it can help with the health of your digestive system. We view the digestive system as an ecosystem or an environment that we are trying to nurture and bring back to health. Every digestive system contains good and bad bacteria and we always want to create a healthy balance.”
A person ingesting too much inulin can experience serious side-effects. “In high doses, you could get bowel disruption, just like you could get bowel disruption if you ended up taking too much of any kind of fibre, like psyllium, for example,” Wiley says.
The amount of fibre in a product is something that Navazesh pays close attention to.
“I pay attention to how much fibre I want to feed my customers. I don’t want to give them diarrhea. Different people have different objectives of what their nutrition needs to be where fibre is concerned. We pay a lot of attention to body function and we don’t want to give you too little or too much. We say nothing less than two grams per serving. For some people, they can consume more, but in a regular product usually you stay around two grams per serving.”
Navazesh also recommends that anyone wanting to incorporate inulin into their products should do their R&D first, since it is not an ingredient that can simply be added to existing formulas.
“They should pay close attention to heat, moisture, coagulation and taste requirement. You also have to look at the catalyst to see what reaction it creates with the other ingredients that you have [in the recipe]. Anything in a powder shape or liquid it will act in.”
Although this fibre-packed ingredient is now gaining ground on supermarket shelves, the chicory plant is certainly not new. In fact, it has a history stretching back to ancient Egyptian times, when the plant was cultivated on the banks of the Nile River and used to aid in digestive and liver health. It has also been used throughout Europe and North America as a coffee substitute, particularly in times of war when coffee beans were scarce and people were craving a good old cuppa joe.The Praeventia product line by Leclerc talks about their use of inulin on their website (www.praeventia.ca/en/prebiotics), on which they state: “The prebiotic dietary fibre inulin used in Praeventia products is, a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant sources such as garlic, leeks, chicory, asparagus, etc. Chicory root is rich in inulin, which is why this root is a preferred choice for extracting inulin for industrial use.” Leclerc also outlines differences between probiotics and prebiotics on their site and this may be good knowledge to have on hand for your customers as well, as chicory root is considered a prebiotic.
There are inulin manufacturers popping up all over the United States and around the world. A few manufacturers are located right here in Canada. Although the full extraction process used by manufacturers is something of a trade secret, there are two ways it can be done. One method of extraction is natural, the other chemical.
On the whole, consumers and bakeries are giving inulin a glowing report, and that good reputation is driving growing demand.
“Customers are happy with it, I’m happy with it, my gut is happy with it,” says Navazesh. “The attributes are huge with inulin. We make a lot of ingredients as humans and not all of them are really good for us. Now and then we make some nice ingredients too, and this is one of them.”
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Bakers Journal and Canadian Pizza magazine.