How Sweet It Is

June 1, 2004
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Sugar-based edible adhesive developed



Sugar isn't just for sweetening anymore. Now it's the main ingredient in new edible adhesives developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

ARS Chemist Sevim Erhan and colleagues at the agency's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL, developed the sugar-based edible adhesive concept at the request of a beverage packing company.

Erhan, who leads the center's Food and Industrial Oils Research Unit, says the company needed a flavorless, food-grade adhesive that could be used for an assembly-line operation that inserts drinking straws into beverage cans, cartons and bottles. Specifically, the company needed a strong, fast-curing adhesive that could bond the straws to a special holder that's lowered into the containers before they're filled and sealed. At that point, the adhesive was supposed to dissolve in an even and controlled manner, otherwise the straws would remain fixed to the holders instead of rising freely out of the containers when consumers opened them.

Erhan and his colleagues chose sugar for the edible adhesive because of its availability, familiarity to consumers and widespread use in beverages. Because sugar alone isn't a strong adhesive, the researchers mixed it with water and various organic acids and then boiled the mixture until the sugar and acids bonded, or crosslinked, forming a dark yellow adhesive.

They experimented with 10 different sugars, including sucrose, lactose and maltose, and 12 organic acids, including citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid. Tests show the resulting adhesives bond to substrates including wood, metal, cloth, leather, glass, plastic and paper. Exposed to liquids, the adhesives dissolve and lose their grip in 20-60 minutes, depending on the sugar/acid combination used to make them.

ARS, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has patented the sugar-based edible adhesives (# 6,613,378 B1). Besides holding the straws, the adhesives have potential applications in binding food items, food and utensil packaging, and drug capsule layers.

For more information, contact Sevim Z. Erhan, Food and Industrial Oil Research, phone (309) 681-6532; fax (309) 681-634; or e-mail erhansz@ncaur.usda.gov .

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