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What is Humectants? Definition, Common Examples & Functions 2020.

What is Humectants in Foods? Definition, common Examples & Functions 2020.

Humectant Meaning:

Humectants are moisture retention agents. Their functions in foods include control of viscosity and texture, bulking, retention of moisture, reduction of water activity, control of crystallization, and improvement or retention of softness. They also help improve the rehydration of dehydrated food and solubilization of flavor compounds.


A humectant is a hygroscopic substance used to keep things moist, it is the opposite of a desiccant because it is wet. It is often a molecule with several hydrophilic group, most often hydroxyl groups; however, amines and carboxyl groups, sometimes esterified can be encountered as well.

  • Humectant can also be defined as a food additives, used to reduce the loss of moisture and increase it's retentivity.
  • Polyhydroxy alcohols are water soluble, hygroscopic materials which exhibit moderate viscosities at high concentrations in water and are used as humectants in food.
  • Some of them are propylene glycol, glycol, sorbitol, mannitol, polyhydric alcohols are sugar derivatives and most of them, except propylene glycol, occur naturally.
  • Humectants are used in stabilization of food products and lengthening shelf life through food and moisture control.

Function of Humectants in Foods :

The purpose of including humectants in food products is to control water activity. By drawing in moisture in the air, humectants prevents foods from drying out, crystallizing, and breaking. This helps food products to hold its shape and texture.

Examples of Food Humectants :

1.Propylene glycol
  • Butylene glycol
  • Hexylene glycol
2.Honey,sugar & salt
3.Sugar alcohols
  • Polyols
  • Sorbitol
  • Erythritol
  • Maltitol
  • xylitol
  • Humectant Glycerin
  • MPG
  • Alpha hydroxy acids
4.Lactic acid
5.Egg white & egg yolk
6.Lithium chloride
8.Sodium hexametaphosphate
9.Castor oil

1.Propylene Glycol :

Propylene glycol is one of the most commonly used humectant in food industries. Propylene glycol is commonly used in food industries to improve food texture, flavor, shelf life, appearance, & moisture preserver. Propylene glycol helps to maintain stable level of moisture and stop from drying out food. Propylene glycol add into marshmallows, coconut flakes, & nuts etc. Propylene glycol odorless and tasteless substance. Propylene glycol as an additives recognized as safe (GRAS) by FDA in food products.

2.Honey, Sugar & Salt :

All are natural humectants used in food. Honey & sugar are effective for dessert & sweets. it helps to bind moisture for preservation against premature spoilage of food without sacrificing characteristics of foods mainly used in baked goods.

3. Sugar Alcohols :

Sugar alcohols are also called polyols. Sugar alcohols are more familiar to food industries as a humectants because of its hygroscopic nature. Sugar alcohols are colorless, odorless, & sweet tin taste. Sugar alcohols contain some calories and carbohydrates, while artificial sweeteners contain zero calories and carbohydrates.

4. Lactic acid :

Lactic acid is used as a humectant in food industries. In the preparation of pickles, sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt & all  the foods which are desired to sour taste.  


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