Maltodextrin is prepared by breaking down corn starch, rice starch or potato starch into smaller component sugars through a chemical process involving water, acids and enzymes. The added acids and enzymes are subsequently removed in a purification process, leaving only maltodextrin. Despite being a sugar, maltodextrin isn't sweet.
Maltodextrin is usually manufactured in the form of white powder or granules and is sold commercially to food processors. The FDA lists maltodextrin under the category of Direct Food Substances Affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe.
Maltodextrin imparts body and viscosity to food, allowing for a richer, more satisfying feel in the mouth. This quality makes it a popular additive in countless food and drink products, including beer, yogurt, salad dressings, sauces, gravy, candy, baked goods and snack chips. It's especially common in low-fat products, which use maltodextrin to reproduce the creamy texture of higher-fat foods.
Though flavorless on its own, maltodextrin is a potent aroma carrier. When maltodextrin is combined with strongly flavored ingredients, it can carry those flavors while retaining its powdered form. Therefore, maltodextrin is a popular ingredient in various beverage powders, including cocoa mix, energy drink mixes and even infant formula.
Maltodextrin is also used as an inert base of many pharmaceutical products. The active ingredient in an over-the-counter or prescription drug may be suspended in a solution or capsule of maltodextrin.