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Maltodextrin, Dextrin and Dextrose Demystified

by Michelle Abendschan in Featured Articles

Sometimes reading food labels can seem a little mysterious. Ingredients like milk, eggs, and whole wheat pastry flour are all pretty self-explanatory, but what about the other things that are sometimes found listed as ingredients? You know, the ones that aren’t readily recognizable as food or even that easy to pronounce. Today we’ll look at three such items: Maltodextrin, Dextrin and Dextrose.

Maltodextrin is a food additive that is created by taking corn or potato starch, boiling it down and then using acids or enzymes to break the starch down even further, leaving only a white powder. This powder is then used in many packaged foods like granolas, chips, and cereals, often times as filler, but also to create texture. In the US and Canada, Maltodextrin is always made from corn or potatoes, but in other parts of the world, it is sometimes made from wheat or barley. That is something to definitely keep in mind if you eat a gluten free diet.

Like Maltodextrin, Dextrin is also a starch, but with a slightly different function. In the US, it’s usually made from corn, potato, arrowroot, rice or tapioca but, also like maltodextrin, wheat is sometimes used elsewhere (so again, celiacs and those who don’t eat gluten, beware)!

“White dextrin” is the additive that is used as a binder to hold ingredients together or as a thickening agent (think cornstarch to thicken sauces).  It can also be found in batters, coatings, and glazes. “Yellow dextrin” is not used for food at all, but is a water-soluble glue, which is not appetizing at all (thank you, Wikipedia).

Finally, we have Dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar. It can occur naturally in some fruit and honey, but industrial-produced dextrose is usually made from cornstarch and…wait for it…is the main ingredient in corn syrup. Because dextrose browns when heated, it’s added to a lot of mass-produced baked goods as well.

Are there any other puzzling food labeling terms that you’re curious about? Let us know!

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66 Responses to “Maltodextrin, Dextrin and Dextrose Demystified”

    • That’s a great article and helps me a lot with the those items, however, I would like to know about the sugar substitutes labeled in almost everything processed that we eat. I had a serious allergic reaction to “Sucralfate” which is mostly made of “Sucralose”. I really need to know the names of all the other sugar substitutes that will or could affect me like sucralose has: hives, breathing difficulty, swollen hands, arms, legs, feet, face (basically my body) terrible itching, lil blisters on my hives,dizziness, blurry vision, confusion and bad memory and any tiny bit of sucralose or other additives alike??? added in my foods has made me have new breakouts of hives, dizziness, blurry vision, confusion and bad memory. Could you please help me decipher what those sugar substitutes like sucralose are? So that I don’t consume them anymore if possible. Very Greatly Appreciated!

  1. Nice article! But really makes you wonder–who was the first person who boiled and boiled and boiled some starch, then added it to their morning cereal thinking, hey, I bet this makes my cereal more crunchy. :)

  2. Hi Abby:

    Polysorbate 80 – in foods, is used as an emulsifier in items like ice creams and whipped toppings to make them smoother and easier to work with. It’s made form polyoxylated sorbitol (I honestly have not been able to slueth out exactly what this is yet) and oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid found in many natural sources, such as avocados).

    Mono- and diacylglycerols are fats, also used as emulsifiers, to blend together ingredients which would not otherwise blend easily (like oil and water). They are derived primarily from partially hydrogenated soy bean and canola oil. They can be found in baked goods, ice cream, gum, shortening, whipped toppings, and margarine.

  3. Now we know WHAT they are… but what do they DO to our bodies? I can’t seem to find anything saying definitively whether these three processed ingredients are good or bad for me.

  4. Dextrose = glucose, the simple sugar that is your body’s main energy source. Other foods are converted to energy (calories) mainly as they are broken down into glucose during digestion. Fructose is another simple sugar that is much sweeter than glucose. Grapes contain about equal parts glucose and fructose, other fruits have less glucose. White granulated sugar = sucrose = glucose + fructose. Glucose + water = IV drip.

  5. I read that dextrin is used as a laxative, like psycillium (sp?) husks. Can maltodextrin be used the same way as dextrin for that purpose?

    • I just bought a container of Wal-Mart’s Equate Fiber Powder and the only ingredient is ‘Dextrin’. Here it is used to increase the amount of fiber taken daily. I came across this site while trying to find out what Dextrin is.

  6. Thank you for your answers above. I frequently purchase Bob’s Red Mill products since many are gluten free and I live a long way from a health food store. Originally I surfed the net to find out more about maltodextrin used in Spring Valley’s Stevia (copyright). Finding your article answered many questions. I am trying to go gluten-free for overall health and suspect I have a sensitivity to it. As an RN, I had to laugh at the above comment…sugars = IV drip.

  7. Valentina, as Michael Pollan says, if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. I doubt Granny had a box of maltodextrin in her cabinet.

  8. I and bunches of others are severely intolerant of maltodextrin. We don’t know why. My/our medical professionals & chemists don’t know why and claim maltodextrin is completely safe as does the FDA. Coming up with information has been impossible.

    Have you heard any information as to why some individuals may be maltodextrin intolerant with severe GI intolerance – and there may be other physical manifestations as well?

    I have two hypotheses but this is complete speculation: 1. The chemicals used to further break down maltodextrin may remain in trace chemicals in the substance (much as the concerns about using bleach in the decaffeination process or bleaching white flour or sugar) or 2. That the “sugar” of the malt used in manufacture may be what we are not tolerating.

    Thanks for any info you might find.

  9. WHY IS MALTODEXTRIN ADDED TO NATURAL STEVIA (IN THE PACKET FORM AS SOLD IN THE HEALTH FD SECTION AT A LARGE RETAILER)? THANK YOU FOR THIS FORUM…

    • …YES, that is what irritates me, too !!! I read that maltodextrin is “JUST” a filler and anti-caking ingredient. Now I’m reading that it will raise my blood sugar quickly … Not good, especially for me, having diabetes. Instead of the packets, I’ll be using stevia powder (which doesn’t dissolve well) or the liquid (brand name Better Stevia). I’ll need to check further on the vegetable glycerine that’s in the liquid.

    • Maltodextrin is the main/filler ingredient with the lesser amount of the highly concentrated sweetness of stevia, so you can use the product to replace the same measurement (cup-for-cup) of sugar in a recipe.

    • Yvette,
      Not all Stevia is the same Maltdextrin is used by some brands to add bulk to the powder so that you can see it but from I have heard some brands do not use it at all.
      Kal supposedly uses nothing but stevia. I only know this because malt dextrin seems to give me a reaction stomach, lower GI, headaches and eye aches.
      Pure Stevia has both sweet and bitter taste within them. Some brands of Stevia Extracts have dispensed with much of the bitterness by removing about 95 percent of the offending part of the stevia leaf whether that’s a good thing I don’t know. I think this year I’ll grow Stevia indoors and see if it can be used in Primal Blueprint recipes as a whole leaf until then I’ll read my labels and make sure that I get it without dextrin.

  10. Regarding such mass marketed products as Stevia in the Raw, the maltodextrin seems more like a filler. Real powdered stevia can be bought in real health food stores and the powder is very fine, unlike Stevia in the Raw. Stevia powder is 300 times the sweetness of table sugar and takes some getting used to. It takes very lttle of the powder to make beverages sweet. There may be a slght aftertaste,but at least it is has no ill effects on blood sugar for sensitive types like myself.

  11. This reply is for ‘Sue’ above.

    If you have a problem with maltodextrin, it may be due to either an allergy to the corn it’s made from (usually GMO), and/or possibly if it’s made from potatoes, you could have a reaction to the solanine in the potato. Potatoes, (and tomatoes, peppers, etc) are members of the nightshade family, and can produce severe symptoms and disease, including arthritis, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, muscle weakness and other serious conditions.

  12. The problem with maltodextrin is the fact that it is made from corn or potatoes. Since virtually all corn in the U.S. is now GMO, that is a bad thing and one that concerns me most. All GMO crops have been shown to be toxic even in Monsanto’s own studies (although no media coverage in the U.S.).

  13. Aloha
    I wanted to ask about potato maltodextrin made in USA. If non gmo verified but growing sources aren’t cited on package can I trust that potatoes used for maltodextrin were gmo free? Thanks for all you produce and do.

  14. I am a diabetic and have adopted a very strict diet, as I want to control my blood glucose with diet and exercise, not drugs. As a result, I have to be very regimented about what I eat. Turns out, I (and a lot of other diabetics I know) have found that maltodextrin spikes our BG levels. This renders nearly all sugar substitutes unusable for us, unless they are in their pure or liquid form (think liquid splenda or stevia). Apparently, maltodextrin is a very simple carbohydrate which the body synthesizes quickly, which explains its effects on our BG. I don’t care what agencies say about its safety; I have been testing myself for months and I know for a fact I cannot tolerate it. I suspect many others who are under the illusion of safety cannot, either.

    • Juanita,

      You can check into using vinegar or cinnamon to help naturally control your blood glucose, too. As for the sugar substitutes, I strongly recommend you watch the documentary “Sweet Misery” on youtube.com. Another good documentary is “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”, also on youtube.com.

  15. Can you tell me than should we just basically look to make sure that the items are all manufactured in the US before ingesting and that should keep us safe regarding the maltodextrin and carmel coloring etc…?

    • Just by being made in the USA does NOT mean it’s safe. Safer, maybe… depending on the crop and if produced by a corporation farm or manufacturer.

  16. Thank you so much for the detailed information. And, thank you to those that have already responded to this post.

    It turns out that I am allergic to potatoes so the information on the maltodextrin is super helpful and a bit surprising. I thought that I had read somewhere else that Dextrose is actually made from potatoes and that is what I had searched for when I found this.

    Just so that I’m clear – it looks like maltodextrin is made from either corn or potatoes, correct? Dextrin is another suspect food for me. But, Dextrose is not made from potatoes?

    Thank you for your help and the clarification!

    • Carin,

      We are definitely not experts on this topic. It appears that dextrose is most often made from cornstarch, but I can’t tell you it is never made from potatoes because we simply do not know. I’m sorry that we cannot be of more help.

  17. My husbands lips swell up when he has anything with barley, he often has the same reaction when he consumes something with maltodextrin, YET it doesn’t always happen. Does that mean when the maltodextin is made from barley/malt he will swell and when its made from something else he is OK?
    How do we know what it is made from? You mentioned in other parts of the world it is made from possible barley. So how do we find out what part of the world it was made in?
    Thanks for that great info you posted

    • Diane,

      I can’t answer your questions. I think you’ll need to speak with a doctor in regards to a barley allergy. Because barley is not one of the top 8 allergens, companies are not legally obliged to put their source of maltodextrin in the ingredient list. IF I were in your shoes, I would have him avoid all maltodextrin products because you can’t be sure of their source. It could also be coincidental that he reacts to some maltodextrin and not others. Barley is used in other fillers and sweeteners. It seems likely to me that a product containing maltodextrin might also use one of these other products that derives from or contains barley. Best of luck to you! I am sorry that we can’t be of more help.

  18. So, from reading your article on “Maltodextrin, Dextrin and Dextrose Demystified”, would you say that if you are gluten-free it would generally be safe to consume a product that is made in the U.S. that has dextrin or dextrose in it ? Or is the dextrin/dextrose used in U.S.-made products sometimes imported from outside the U.S.?

    • Joyce,

      We would be cautious about products using these ingredients- even if they are American made. As with most foods, it is a wise idea to contact the manufacturer and find out.

  19. I have multiple food allergies and yeast and malted barley are the most severe. Does maltodextrin or dextrose fall into that category? I see them on almost all labels. I’m having an extremely difficult time with finding foods I can eat and I’m beginning to look into protein drinks to avoid losing more weight. However, I am finding that the ingredients on them include things I’m allergic to, as well, like cows milk. Cane sugar is also in my “foods to avoid” list.

    • Julie,

      Because they are sometimes made from barley, it is in your best interest to call companies and find out their sources of maltodextrin and dextrose. As far as getting more protein, try including more whole grains and beans in your diet. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein. There are so many good blogs that create recipes for multiple food allergies- Gluten Free Goddess, Oh She Glows, The Healthy Apple- are just some of the sites out there. Best of luck to you!

  20. Concerned about Caramel as well as hidden MSG. I have read that we can assume that MSG is hidden in many of our cereals as artificial flavor. In the U.S. do they have to label MSG as such or can they still hide it as artificial flavor in labeling.

    The Caramel in flavorings also seems to affect me. Anything on either would be great and especially the MSG issue.

  21. I am GFDF Intolerant and find that chocolate in any form gives me the same GI issues as dairy and gluten. Is there a chocolate form or product that does not have any milk product used in the process or liquor (alcohol)? I am also allergic to liquor in any form. I will have an immediate migraine.

  22. Hi, folks. I’ve been reading about dextrose. Apparently it is a monosaccharide, which is a very simple sugar. It is absorbed through the villi in the small intestine by a co-transport system with sodium, and allows it to go directly into the body without taking a lot of time to digest in the small intestine. For people with SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) it is an easier sugar to absorb because it is not intensely gas producing in the small intestine, therefore. Bodybuilders like dextrose because it is an ‘instant energy.’ It is a form of glucose. You can buy “dextrose” from health food stores or online I am NOT a medical person. I just read up on it through science articles from peer-reviewed journals online I wanted to find a simple sugar that did not cause gas and bloating. So, that’s ALL I know, and I stand corrected if any of this information is somewhat inaccurate, but I think it’s fairly accurate. Al best to everybody. PS yes dextrose is gluten-free. It is produced in the US generally from corn, but it can be produced from potato or other starches.

  23. PS – I would never presume to “recommend” any specific product whether human-made or ‘natural’ to anybody – i.e. you have to make your own choices! But perhaps science-based information is useful!

  24. So my question is so I’m clear on this if I have a gluten allergy of malt and barley. Its best to call the company to find the maltdextrin source? If it’s tapioca it’s ok? The corn or potato if specializes just depends on if it’s corn is it GMO corn or potatoe depends on USA or out of country? Thank you.

  25. Thank you, Bob’s Red Mill (and Cassidy) for this site. I’ve learned more and it’s very helpful. I buy many of your flours and appreciate the varieties that are now even in the common grocery stores (not just health food stores). –jlb

  26. Marilyn Grashow

    Hi
    I just switched from taking compounded T4, T3 slow release(methycellulose causes the slow release of the T3)–the compounded part means there are no fillers or other inactive ingredients–just the pure T4 drug the T3 and the methylcellulose in the vitamin capsule–made by a compounding pharmacy for me- because inacvtive ingredients in drugs tend to cause adverse reactions in me.. I just switched to Armour thyroid—I noticed it has fillers including dextrose–I am having some adverse reaction–can this be an allergy to dextrose or the origin of the dextrose?-or is this a continued reaction the the Merck pneumovax 23 vaccination I had at the same time I switched. The vaccination cannot cause pneumonia but can cause other things. By allergy testing I am allergic to cane sugar, beet sugar, wheat and cow milk, and from reaction when eating it —allergic/autoimmune adverse to gluten.

  27. This is a reply to Sue regarding Maltodextrin and GI intolerance. I have had reactions to foods containing maltodextrin, and other food additives mentioned above. I tested highly positive for a yeast and autolyzed yeast extract allergy. Anytime something us processed by “malting”, it creates at least a little yeast during the process. I have find ingesting it, no matter in what form or amount can cause a variety of symptoms for me, from GI to hives, increased heart rate, itching, swelling, and severe nausea. It has been so severe at times I almost passed out. Check with an allergist who specializes in chemical and environmental allergies.

  28. Deirdre o Grady

    My husband suffered very badly with his eyes for months, costing us several visits to our doctor, €50 per visit, creams etc. he was waiting on an appointment with an eye specialist, which would have cost €120
    He was on a calcium tablet.
    Luckily on talking to an elderly lady, who suffered the same as he did and was taking the same calcium tablet as he was, I googled the ingredients in the tablet and maltradoxtrin was the. Ingredient that came up as having a very bad effect on the eyes.
    It took 6 weeks for this to go out of his body and he is now over the awful effect it was having on him.
    I will not buy anything with this ingredient in it. For some reason, probably greed it is being put into lots of food. Just to day I went to buy stuffing and low and behold they have now put it into that, where next.
    All I can say is watch everything and I for one will not buy anything with it in it.
    I have been told that it is a neuron toxic?????
    Buyer beware??????????

  29. I love Bob’s Red Mill products and use them very frequently. l do have one issue though. I like the BRM Gluten free oats but recently I purchased your oats in the cellophane bag and got very sick after one serving. When I looked at the familiar packaging I saw that it was not marked gluten free. I really would like to see you change the packaging markedly so that there can be no confusion that one is gluten free and one is not. They looked so similar that I did not see the difference until I felt it. Would love to hear from you. I love your stories in the Guide Post as well and recommend your products to many people. Thank you for always being open to new suggestions and growing in this Gluten Free world. Barbara Dunn/ Celiac Support for others suffering with this disease.

  30. i cannot have any product wit artificial sweetner…need to know what names ( any and all) that mean artificial sweetner.

  31. I can not have anything rice. Can you help me figure out if there are any other names they use rice. Like the dextrin, if it does not tell me what it comes from I can’t eat it. I never knew it would be this hard.

    • Tammy,

      I am not familiar with any other names for rice that might be used. I think you’ll have to contact manufacturers directly to see what kind of dextrin they use.

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