Roquette Positions Pea Starch As Gelatin Alternative For Capsules

November 18th 2020

Roquette’s innovative plant-based solution unlocks possibilities for veggie softgel market.

Roquette has unveiled Lycagel, a pea starch technology positioned as a pharmaceutical-grade solution for vegetarian softgel capsule formulations.

As it meets both US and EU pharmacopeia standards, Lycagel is the first vegetarian softgel option that is suitable for nutraceutical supplement softgel products, as well as regulated pharmaceutical drug products, according to Roquette.

“Gelatin is currently the gold standard for softgel capsules in the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical markets. However, gelatin is animal-derived and has incompatibility issues with fill ingredients that can shorten softgel shelf life,” says Steve Amoussou-Guenou, innovation project leader of pharma at Roquette.

Lycagel is designed to be easily adaptable to existing gelatin processes, with only minor production modifications needed to handle the higher gel mass viscosity and temperature requirements.

“A key ingredient in the Lycagel system – pea starch – is the first of its kind to market, supporting high performance and attractive softgel solutions through patented technology.”

Amoussou-Guenou continues that Lycagel’s best characteristics are its strength compared to gelatin and its ability to maintain structural integrity during production and throughout storage.

“Unlike gelatin-based capsules, for example, Lycagel softgels exhibit no crosslinking. In terms of visual appeal, Lycagel capsules have a transparent, shiny finish and excellent reproducibility and can be adapted to the manufacturer’s brand,” he adds.

Another advantage is that Lycagel is processed at higher temperatures than gelatin. “In addition to maintaining its structural integrity at higher temperatures, it also removes the temperature limitations experienced with gelatin.”

This allows manufacturers to include ingredients such as pastes or waxes, as well as giving the option to implement multi-ingredient and complex formulations.

Additionally, some manufacturers may feel that the manufacturing process is much slower for plant-based softgels, and therefore inefficient and more expensive than gelatin versions. However, Roquette has found that manufacturing time with Lycagel is equivalent to gelatin.
Lycagel capsules have a transparent, shiny finish and excellent reproducibility.

Roquette has spent the past two years investing in the R&D around Lycagel. The final formation includes pea starch, carrageenan, Neosorb sorbitol and salt.

Unlike gelatin, hydroxypropyl (HP) pea starch does not possess the gelling properties needed to form a homogeneous softgel film.

Therefore, the team needed to explore ingredient combinations to achieve this characteristic, with carrageenan eventually being selected.

However, when mixed together, pea starch and carrageenan are more viscous. In addition, Roquette found that the formulation was jellifying at temperatures below approximately 85°C.

This meant that in comparison to gelatin, the preparation of the gel mass required a higher temperature, as well as for film casting and capsule sealing.

“We also experienced some challenges with capsule sealing during the initial stages of the development – finding that the capsules were leaking, or the films were too thick,” explains Amoussou-Guenou.

The answer to these R&D challenges was eventually found in a specific cooking procedure for the pea starch and carrageenan system. The teams also implemented some equipment adjustments to avoid the immediate jellifying of the gel mass.

“Following multiple testing phases, a new temperature setting profile was established. Our efforts to optimize and adjust the process parameters for Lycagel subsequently removed challenges with capsule leakage and sealing marks,” says Amoussou-Guenou.

The launch is now supported by the validation of its reproducibility at scale when encapsulating varying fills for different capsule sizes and shapes.
The Roquette R&D team developed a specific cooking procedure for the pea starch and carrageenan system.

This gelatin alternative taps into a growing market for plant-based offerings. Indeed, “Plant-Forward” is Innova Market Insights’ second Top Trend for 2021.

The market researcher reports that plant-based or vegan claims on supplements had an average annual growth of 34 percent between 2015 and 2019.

“With demand for plant-based alternatives showing no signs of abating, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical manufacturers alike require a solution that can help them meet discerning consumer preferences for sustainable, non-animal derived ingredients,” explains Amoussou-Guenou.

He continues that it’s not just people who categorize themselves as vegetarian that are looking to swap animal-based products for plant-based alternatives, with many omnivorous consumers simply reducing their meat intake.

“Religious reasons, as well as an increased awareness of environmental and health concerns regarding meat consumption, are all contributing factors fueling a global drive toward plant-based products and solutions,” he details.


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