Potato starch, from ordinary to special ingredient

Published: 03-07-2014

Potato starch has been used in food and feed for decades. It is also applied in industrial applications from glues to starches. Developments in the market and the demand for new, healthy and sustainably sourced products are creating a need for new solutions. The potato starch industry has to find ways to make growing starch potatoes more profitable while satisfying a more demanding consumer. In response to this challenge, the industry has developed several innovative food ingredients.

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Competing for acreage

Starch potatoes have always been a mainly northern European crop. A major factor in farmers’ decision to grow this crop was the availability of EU subsidies in the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since World War Two. But this policy is about to be dismantled, which will mean an end to direct subsidies for growing starch potatoes. In 2012, Dutch starch potato growers received less financial support from Brussels for the first time. The Dutch ABN AMRO bank studied how the loss of EU subsidies will affect the starch potato sector and published its findings in January 2014. The bank calculated that the average Dutch starch potato grower’s cultivation plan includes 45 percent starch potatoes. As subsidies will be halved over the next five years, ABN AMRO expects farmers to partly switch to other, higher-profit crops. In Germany, where state support was withdrawn earlier, potato starch acreage has fallen sharply over the past few years. This is partly due to the introduction of subsidies for other produce and especially energy crops. The bank predicts that different crops will start to compete for acreage.


These developments pose a significant challenge for both the potato starch industry and farmers alike. AVEBE, a leading player on the global potato starch market, aims to achieve an incremental increase in price. Their strategy focuses on market orientation, cost leadership, sustainability and innovation. The company believes innovation starts on the farm with the development of new varieties that bring in greater profit per acre. “Potato starch is no longer an ordinary starch,” said Piet Buwalda, Starch Technology Manager at AVEBE. “We’re working on all kinds of innovative applications to create added value for potato starch and hence for starch potatoes. We’re putting effort into every link in the value chain, starting with our own breeding business, where we’re developing better varieties. These varieties enable farmers to increase their yield per acre, while delivering starch that’s better suited to our new applications. At the same time, we are focusing on product innovation technology. That’s one of our main priorities right now. And we’re collaborating more and more with other companies in this. We follow the principle of ‘open innovation’. In 2008, for example, we joined a Dutch food and pharmaceutical consortium that established the Carbohydrate Competence Center (CCC). This CCC clusters all knowledge about carbohydrates in Dutch universities, institutions and the industry, and it researches new concepts. And in May 2014, we helped the CCC set up a Protein Competence Center (PCC).”

“Potato proteins are unique and have many potential uses, particularly in developing gluten-free and lactose-free products,”


Gelling agent and proteins

The most important innovation at AVEBE in recent years was the development of potato starch-based gelling agents. ETENIA is a gelling agent extracted from potato starch by means of a special enzyme. It can be used as a fat substitute in dairy products and baked goods. ETENIA was developed by AVEBE in cooperation with NIZO food research, DSM food specialties and TNO.

“ETENIA is used in low-calorie products, but that’s not the only application it’s suitable for,” said Buwalda, who was part of the team that developed this innovation. “It has a unique texture, and texture greatly affects taste. If you add ETENIA to low-fat yoghurt, for instance, it gives the yoghurt a very creamy taste and texture.” Other applications for this additive are being developed – in wine gums and puddings for instance. ETENIA also has potential for use in vegetarian, kosher and halal diets. Another advantage, according to Buwalda, is that it does not require an E-number on the label. In a separate development, researchers are working on the use of proteins from starch potatoes. Potatoes contain about two percent proteins. Since the 1960s, these have been removed from potato starch-processing waste streams and added to cattle feed by means of an energy-intensive process. But now AVEBE has redesigned the process so it requires less heat to separate the proteins from the waste stream. The proteins obtained in this way are known as functional proteins. “You could compare it to the difference between raw and cooked egg white,” Buwalda explained. “Raw egg white has different functionalities than cooked egg white.” Functional proteins, which are sold under the Solanic name, are now used in sports drinks to increase nutritional value. But they can also be used in whipped cream or to improve the texture of sorbet. “Potato proteins are unique and have many potential uses, particularly in developing gluten-free and lactose-free products,” said Buwalda.


AVEBE expects potato starch to play a role in a growing number of applications. “We’re even thinking of potato starch-based prebiotics,” Buwalda said. “That’s our response to the increasing interest in high-fiber food. There’s so much potential there. As a cooperative of potato growers, we’re relying on product innovation to ensure that starch potatoes continue to be part of our members’ production plans. At the same time, we’re offering the food industry good basic ingredients that allow them to respond to market trends, such as the continued interest in healthy food.”