Cellulose is an insoluble, non-digestible, food ingredient. It is a glucose polymer with varying chain length and is derived from cell walls of plants and some algae. Cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on earth.
Cellulose is commonly used in foods and bakery formulations as a source of dietary fiber or to improve their texture.
It is also used as a bulking agent in low-calorie and gluten-free baked products.
Cellulose was first isolated from wood in 1839 by the French chemist Anselme Payen.1 Its separation from lignins is based on its inability to dissolve in alkaline solutions. At the beginning of the 20th Century, cellulose was used exclusively in industrial applications such as plastic polymers, artificial silk, cellophane and many others. In the later part of the 20th century, cellulose fiber found applications in many food and bakery systems.
The first commercial development of cellulose-fortified bread for calorie reduction in the U.S. was in 1961, led by Dr. Simon Jackel with Quality Bakers Association. The bread was sold by few bakeries for about three years but did not evoke significant consumer interest. Another launch was attempted in the 1970’s and met with commercial success. 2
Generally, whole wheat grains, specifically the bran, is a good source of cellulose fiber. Other common cellulose-containing grains include but not limited to rice, oats and rye. Cellulose fiber can also be sourced from a plethora of fruits and vegetables.3 Examples of these include:3
Fruits (% cellulose fiber)
Vegetables (% cellulose fiber)
Apple pomace (26%), spray-dried apple (40%)
Orange peel and pulp (28%-40%)
Pineapple core (91.2%)
Cauliflower florets and upper stems (35%), lower steams (51%)
Cocoa hulls (18%)
Field peas hulls (62.3%)
Corn bran (21.5%)
Cellulose is composed of an unbranched linear chain of thousands of glucose units. It can be produced in various micron lengths depending on the application and property desired. Cellulose fiber is insoluble in concentrated alkali and is resistant to acid hydrolysis.5
Although cellulose is not water-soluble, when dispersed in water it swells and gains weight. This property is responsible for cellulose desirable functional performance in bread such as texturizing and gel formation, stabilizing crumb structure and volume build up. Cross-linking among cellulose chains is responsible for its mechanical strength and stability. All these qualities make cellulose an excellent ingredient for gluten-free bread formulations.
Many derivatives of cellulose are commonly used in food applications including methyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and many other molecules which have been developed to compensate for cellulose lack of some functional aspects, mainly solubility.
Cellulose is indigestible by humans. Its digestibility does not improve when it is cooked or baked. However, the weakening of the cell structure allows our digestive enzymes to absorb some nutrients associated with cellulose. 6
Cellulose is a valuable source of insoluble fiber in baked goods. It has little to no caloric value and can aid in a managing the caloric content of the end products.3
There can be many health benefits from the addition of cellulose fiber to a baked product. This includes: heart health and reducing gastrointestinal pain Additionally, it can improve the gastrointestinal transit, prevent constipation and reduce fat absorption from the digestive tract. 4
Cellulose fiber is typically added to baked goods at less than 2% when fiber claims are needed for the product. In foods and bakery formulations, cellulose does not impart any undesirable flavor or taste.
Formulating baked products with cellulose or cellulose derivatives is currently a common practice for enhancing the fiber content, replacing fat or gluten, at least partially. In such formulations, cellulose can be added as a pure ingredient or as a concentrate from grains, fruits or vegetables. Addition of cellulose to bakery formulations requires a substantial increase in the water content. Below are some notable examples:
Addition of up to 30% cellulose to a cake batter results in a more viscous batter and a more tender and soft baked product; finer particle size cellulose often absorbs higher amounts of water.
Apple pomace addition to cakes may lead to decreased volume, increased sweetness and moistness as well as higher crumb density7
Addition of cellulose to frozen desserts has been effectively used as a fat replacer.8
Spray dried apple ( ~40% cellulose ) addition to bread resulted in increased loaf weight but reduced loaf volume.
Pineapple core ( 91.2% cellulose) added to cake-type donuts showed a reduction in oil absorption, enhanced moisture and softness as well as increased cake volume.3
Maple fiber (made up of cellulose, lignin and other non-starch polysaccharides) can function as a emulsifer alternative, thickener and dough conditioner.
Similar conclusions were reached from incorporating cellulose from field pea hulls, rice or corn bran into breads, cookies, muffins.
“Cellulose, regenerated” is approved and listed as GRAS under 21CFR 176.170, Indirect Food Additives.9
Additionally, many fibers derived from vegetable, seed and grain hulls are also listed under the GRAS list.
Payen, A. Memoire sur la composition du tissue propre des plants et du ligneux. Comptes Rendus, 1838, 7, pp: 1052-1056.
Stauffer, C.E., In, Advances in Baking Technology, (B.S. Kamel and C.E. Stauffer, eds.), 1993, Springer-Sciences Business Media, pp 407.
Prakongpan, T., A. Nitithamyong, and P. Luangpituksa. “Extraction and Application of Dietary Fiber and Cellulose from Pineapple Cores.” Journal of Food Science 67.4 (2002): 1308-1313.
CANJA, C. M. “DIETARY FIBER ROLE AND PLACE IN BAKING PRODUCTS.” Agricultural Food Engineering, vol. 9, no. 58, ser. 2, 2016, pp. 91–96. 2.
Dhingra, Devinder, et al. “Dietary Fibre in Foods: a Review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, vol. 49, no. 3, 2011, pp. 255–266., doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0365-5.
ZABIK, MAR Y E., MELISSA A. M. SHAFER, and B. W. KUKOROWSKI. “DIETARY FIBER SOURCES FOR BAKED PRODUCTS.” Journal of Food Science 42.6 (1977).
Sudha, M.L., V. Baskaran, and K. Leelavathi. “Apple pomace as a source of dietary fiber and polyphenols and its effect on the rheological characteristics and cake making.” Food Chemistry 104.2 (2007): 686-692.
(Towle, G.A. Stabilization of chilled and frozen foods. In; gums and Stabilizers for the Food Industry (G.O. Phillips, P.A. Williams, D.J. wedlock, eds), 1996. Oxford Univ. Press.