For anyone in the food and beverage world, organic glycerine should be familiar due to its countless applications. Sometimes spelled glycerin and referred to as glycerol, it is a simple polyol and sugar alcohol that functions well as a flavor carrier.
The ingredient helps prevent sugar crystallization and adds smoothness and sweetness to many food and beverage products. It also serves as a humectant, solvent and preservative.
Its technical versatility is a unique combination of physical and chemical properties. Glycerine readily dissolves in water, making it ideal for water-based formulations. Represented by the chemical formula C3H8O3, its molecular structure is composed of three carbon atoms, eight hydrogen atoms and three oxygen atoms, which allows it to retain moisture well. It is also odorless, colorless and has a high viscosity and boiling point (290 degrees Celsius).
Food and beverage applications
Glycerine has seemingly endless applications in numerous industries—primarily in the food and beverage industry. A quality organic version should easily absorb concentrated flavorings and distribute them evenly, providing consistent taste in product formulations.
The ingredient is used to create and preserve botanical extracts, such as lavender and rosemary. However, it should be noted that while glycerine and other glycols can render some organic molecules inert, they do not provide broad-spectrum protection against mold, bacteria, fungi, etc.
The ingredient acts as a solvent for flavors and food colors in soft drinks and confections, and as a humectant—a substance used to reduce the loss of moisture—in dried fruits, nutrition and energy bars, candy, cakes and casings for meats and cheese. A reference document compiled by The Glycerine Producers’ Association noted cakes baked with glycerinated eggs have a larger volume and better texture than cakes made with non-glycerinated eggs.
Occurring naturally in fermented foods and beverages, such as beer, honey, vinegar and wine, glycerine contains slightly more calories per gram than sugar and is 60-75% as sweet. Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 182, Section 1320 states glycerine is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) when used in accordance with GMPs (good manufacturing practices).
The substance is a major player when it comes to the world of beverages—alcoholic and otherwise. When conducting his famous studies on fermentation in 1885, Louis Pasteur found that 3.5% of the sugars in alcoholic fermentation are converted to glycerine.
Since the 19th century, the sugar alcohol has been used to form base flavors of liquors and liqueurs and as a vehicle in making flavors for stronger drinks such as gin, essence of cognac, essence of rock and rye whiskey and artificial Scotch flavors. It also shows up during the preparation of the base extract of soft drinks as well as fountain syrups.
Glycerine’s flavor-carrying abilities are most clearly displayed in vanilla and citrus flavors, coffee, fruit and spice extracts, and chocolate syrups, where they help improve the body and smoothness. Flavor pastes and powders often contain the simple polyol compound, as it is an excellent solvent for flavor and taste materials present in natural products, like coffee beans. And glycerine is used all the way down (or up) to the corks in wine bottles, as it helps maintain the flexibility of the cork, ensuring a solid seal.
To read this article in its entirety, click the link to access “The real deal: Natural color and flavor solutions” digital magazine, and select the organic glycerine article from the TOC.
Mike Efting has been a senior executive in the chemical distribution industry for more than 35 years and an entrepreneur for well over a decade. He is the current president, CEO and founder of Viachem, a specialty chemical food additive and ingredient distributor, and American Pure Products, a wholly owned subsidiary of Viachem that includes premium personal care brands spanning hand sanitizer to CBD.