Inulin is a fairly new addition to gluten free baking. A product most often extracted from chicory root, it can replace sugar and fat in some products, adds fiber, helps promote good bacteria in your gut, and may even help your body absorb calcium.
Inulin is a starchy substance found naturally in many plant roots or tubers including onion, garlic, bananas, and dandelions. Inulin is a polysaccharide, a long chain of simple sugars plants use to store energy. Because humans cannot digest these polysaccharides, inulin is considered a dietary fiber when it is added to processed foods.
In the gut, inulin supports the growth of healthy bacteria and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria including E coli, Clostridium difficile and Candida albicans.
Research is still continuing to discover how inulin assists in calcium absorption, but it appears that inulin makes calcium more available for the body to absorb from the colon, particularly in adolescents and young adults. This could be an important method to build stronger bones early in life and to delay or prevent developing osteoporosis later in life.
Commercially, inulin is usually extracted from chicory root although it may also be extracted from Jerusalem artichoke (sun choke) or manufactured by fermenting. The root is chopped and mixed with water to make a wet pulp. The pulp is refined to remove and purify the chicory juice, the water is evaporated and the final product is spray dried to create inulin powder.
Commercial bakers add inulin to products to replace some of the fat and sugar and to modify the texture and taste. Research reported in Food Science and Technology International found that adding inulin to gluten free bread improved the sensory qualities of the bread, something that is sometimes lacking in gluten free products. Inulin also improves the texture of reduced-fat ice cream and plain unsweetened yoghurt and it reduces the formation of ice crystals in frozen dairy products.
Inulin powder is sometimes sold as a stand-alone fiber supplement, to be mixed with water or added to food. Some people are very sensitive to its laxative effect; this tendency may be reduced by gradually adding inulin products to your diet rather than consuming a large amount at once.
Some gluten free home bakers add inulin to products to improve the fiber content of their diet. Try adding one teaspoon of inulin to muffins, cookies, cake and pie recipes. You may be able to decrease the sugar by an equivalent amount without noticing a difference. Try adding a tablespoon or more of inulin to yeast bread or roll recipes. You may be able to build up to about two teaspoons of inulin per serving, which will substantially increase the fiber content of your bread or rolls. Inulin may alter the texture of your baked products, so experiment with the amount of inulin that works with any particular recipe.