Derived from cellulose, a structural component of plant cells, methylcellulose was first introduced at the end of the 1930s in Germany, then a few years later in the United States. This extract from wood or cotton has several desirable characteristics such as film formation, water retention and the ability to form a gel with heat, which will melt upon cooling. It also acts as a thickening and binding agent.
Extraction of methylcellulose first requires mixing with an alkali, followed by the addition of methyl chloride, which transfers its methyl group to the molecule. The resulting pulp is then rinsed and filtered at a high temperature, so as to avoid gelling the product. Other cellulose by-products are also available on the market, such as hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) and super methylcellulose (SMC).
Vegetable gum is soluble in cold water and forms a soft to firm elastic gel at temperatures around 122°F (50°C), although certain classes of the product can form a gel at about 86°F (30°C). When the temperature drops, the gel then returns to its original form as a solution. By heating, the molecule gets rid of its bonds with the water and forms new ones with its own kind, thus creating the structure needed for a gel. However, the addition of salt or sugar decreases the temperature at which the gel forms. The molecule also has hydrophobic characteristics and is able to trap air, which makes it the emulsifier of choice.
Methylcellulose is useful in the industry due to its stability during cooking and its ability to trap moisture and air, which increases the volume of dough and frozen dairy products. When added to French onions, it preserves the onion’s shape and texture during cooking and reduces oil absorption by forming a film.
The ability of methylcellulose to preserve the shape of products makes it a popular ingredient in waffles and soy-based imitation meat. The presence of methylcellulose causes the formation of a gel during cooking, preventing the product from disintegrating, since it will be trapped by the gel. Once the food is cooled and the methylcellulose has returned to its soluble form, the gel disappears. No one will be any the wiser!
Did you know?
METHYLCELLULOSE is calorie-free when ingested, as human digestive enzymes are unable to alter its molecules; the intestine does not retain it.
METHYLCELLULOSE is used in the composition of anti-constipation treatments due to its ability to absorb a lot of water during its passage through the digestive tract.
METHYLCELLULOSE is a main component in the manufacturing of fake semen used in the pornography industry.
METHYLCELLULOSE acts as a performance additive in concrete mixtures due to its properties that improve the product’s viscosity and its adhesion to surfaces.