Oats (Avena sativa) are a uniquely nutritious food with an excellent nutrient profile including high amounts of soluble fibre. However, the oat kernel is largely non-digestible and must be milled to fully enable the nutritional benefits to be utilised. Without milling the hull would pass through the digestive system without delivering any worthy nutritional content (1).
The oats in Huel are milled to a fine powder. All the nutritional value of raw oats is maintained during the milling process, which is made up of a number of steps. The most important process is dehulling in order to expose the digestible groats (the dehulled kernel). The bran is removed and the oats are heat-treated. As the bran contains the largest proportion of fat, the process is required to stabilise the oats, preventing rancidity and nutrient degradation when stored.
The groat is cut using steel blades to ensure consistent flake size, then rolled and finely milled and ground into oat flour. The process ends with sifting the flour through a 0.5mm mesh to ensure consistency in taste, digestibility and visual attractiveness.
The oats used in Huel are grown and processed within the UK, where growing conditions are ideal for producing high-quality oats.
Figure 1 - Flow-chart to show how the oats in Huel are produced
Pea protein is one of the most popular vegan proteins available and continues to grow in popularity due to its smooth texture that is low in fat and high in protein. Adding to the appeal of pea protein are its low allergenic properties, versatility and low environmental impact compared to that of animal proteins and alternative plant-based protein sources (2).
Protein isolates undergo further processing compared to protein concentrates. This process yields a higher protein content. The pea protein isolate used in Huel contains a high protein content of over 80%.
Firstly, the peas (Pisum sativum) are harvested; then they are sifted and dehulled, which takes out the fibre component resulting in a mixed starch and protein liquid. As the weight of starch and protein is different, the starch goes to the bottom and protein to the upper levels of sediment. After the sediment separation, the protein liquid contains a little fibre and starch, so the protein liquid needs to run through several more separation steps to purify the protein content. This includes centrifuging, further filtering and ion-exchange chromatography. Then the pea protein is tested to see if it meets our specification requirements; it’s passed, bagged and shipped to the Huel production facility.
The pea protein in Huel originates from China and is supplied to the Huel blending facility.
Figure 2 - Flow-chart to show how Huel’s pea protein isolate is produced
Brown rice (Oryza sativa) protein is also a suitable protein source for vegans and those with lactose allergies. Similar to pea protein, brown rice protein has a high protein composition, that is widely regarded as more sustainable and environmentally-friendly than animal derived proteins.
The brown rice protein in Huel is carefully processed to extract the beneficial protein fractions undamaged. The main source of protein is found within the rice grain and the rice bran. To extract the protein, the rice is weighed and calculated to ensure the required quantity of protein is extracted. The rice is put through a process of deioning which removes unwanted metallic compounds. The rice is ground and turned into a liquid via hydrolysis to break down the starchy carbohydrates into simple sugar components (this is also referred to as saccharification). The conversion of the starch into simple sugars is initiated by naturally occurring enzymes that are highly stable when heated, which is particularly effective in the rice protein separation process. Once the components are separated the protein sediment is extracted through filtration and sterilised via ion-exchange chromatography. All that is left is to dehydrate the powder and package the rice protein concentrate, to be sent to the Huel blending facility.
The brown rice protein in Huel is non-genetically modified, originating from China.
Figure 3 - Flow-chart of how Huel’s brown rice protein is produced
The combination of rice protein concentrate and pea protein isolate in Huel is ideal. This is because rice protein is high in the amino acids cysteine and methionine, whereas pea protein is not. Furthermore, pea protein is high in the amino acids lysine, but rice protein is not. This balance brings together the perfect marriage of plant protein sources, to provide an amino acid profile to equal milk-based proteins without the associated allergens.
Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) production can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who they harvested flaxseeds for their oil and produced linen from their fibres (3). Flaxseeds are available in two varieties: brown and golden flaxseeds.
Flaxseeds are a popular source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, fibre and protein as well as several vitamins and minerals. Brown flaxseeds used in Huel have been finely milled to prevent clumping and aid mixability, for ease and pleasure of consumption; the process also increases the bioavailability of the nutrients.
Milling the flaxseeds is a simple multistage production that begins with cleaning and sifting to ensure the end product is contaminant-free. The whole flaxseeds enter a process of milling, where the flaxseeds are maintained at room temperature. Cold milling is the preferred method as it ensures that the flaxseeds are free from nutrient degradation or damage induced by extreme heat treatments. The cold milling maintains all the nutrients and benefits flaxseeds are renowned for. The milling duration is adjusted depending on the desired texture. Once passed quality control the roughly cut seeds are further milled and sieved through a fine mesh to achieve a fine granular texture that is yellow and brown in appearance, giving a subtle nutty taste.
Figure 4 - Flow-chart of how the flaxseeds in Huel are produced
The brown flaxseeds used in Huel are non-genetically modified, originating from Canada; the largest global producer of flaxseeds.
The MCTs in Huel powder are sourced from coconut oil. A process called spray-drying (also known as encapsulation) converts the MCT liquid-oil into a powder. The spray-drying process maintains all the oil’s nutritional properties and aroma, whilst increasing its versatility and shelf life. Spray-drying production starts with the mixing, dissolving and homogenisation of the MCTs and a maltodextrin carrier solution to create a suspension solution. Maltodextrin carriers are widely used in food production, forming a protective layer to encapsulate the MCTs’ properties.
The solution is passed through an atomiser to produce a fine mist that aids drying and ensures equal particle size. The particles then enter the drying chamber and are mixed with silica (SiO2). The hot air removes all moisture, leaving the powdered encapsulated MCT and the silica is an anti-caking agent. The powder is thoroughly sieved and packaged ready to be mixed in to Huel.
Once in a powdered form, the MCTs’ shelf life is increased whilst preserving their nutritional attributes. MCT powder mixed into Huel provides a range of nutritional benefits and a rich, creamy taste. Research shows the benefits of the MCT oil powder to be identical to that of the oil since the only difference is the delivery method (4).
The MCT oil in Huel originates from China and is supplied to the Huel blending facility from the UK.
Sunflower oil is extracted from sunflower seeds; it is then filtered prior to being spray-dried and encapsulated; in a process similar to that of the MCT powder. Encapsulating the sunflower oil is particularly beneficial as it prevents oxygen degradation that is common in liquid oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are prone to turning rancid.
The effectiveness of spray-drying is highlighted in a wealth of studies, giving credit and confirmation that the process is free from adverse chemical reactions and is an effective method of preserving the nutritional content by minimising lipid oxidation (5), and maintaining flavour and aroma (6), as well as nutrient properties and profiles (7).
The sunflower oil is sourced from India and manufactured and packed within the UK. The powdering of the MCT and sunflower oils aids their ease of consumption, transportation and storage.
Figure 5 – Flow diagram of the spray-drying process used to powder and encapsulate Huel’s coconut MCT and sunflower oil
The flavouring used in Huel Vanilla flavour (both Gluten-Free and non-gluten-free varieties), is manufactured using a powdered flavour that is derived from essential oils and vanilla extract. The flavouring is stabilised to protect the taste and aroma from degradation. It is sourced from Europe from suppliers that have met the raw material specifications of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed Safety (RASFF) and is free from genetically-modified ingredients. RASFF enables quick exchange of information between the EU nations and the European Commission to warn of possible dangerous products that may pose a risk to health and safety of consumers (8).
The vanilla flavouring in Huel Original flavour powder (both Gluten-Free and non-gluten-free varieties) is a mix of natural vanilla extract and artificial vanilla flavouring. The flavour is encapsulated on a maltodextrin and gum arabic carrier to prevent flavour and aroma degradation.
Huel uses a gum blend of xanthan and guar gums, both commonly used natural thickeners and stabilising agents. Xanthan gum is a natural ingredient that can be found in a large variety of food products such as salad dressings, yogurts and drinks. In most cases, as in Huel, it is used as a thickening agent to provide a creamy texture and as a stabiliser to prevent the ingredients from separating. Xanthan gum is a naturally occurring soluble fibre, produced by the aerobic fermentation of Xanthomonas campestris with sucrose, glucose and lactose sourced from seaweed and corn. After fermentation, the solution is sterilised and centrifuged to extract the sediment. The sediment is filtered several times before being dehydrated. The dehydrated sediment is ground into a fine white powder ready to be added into Huel.
Once the xanthan gum is mixed with liquid, the powder turns into a soft gel-like structure that is pliable.
Figure 6 – Flow-chart demonstrating the fermentation of carbohydrates in the manufacturing of xanthan gum before being added to Huel
The natural thickening and stabilising agent guar gum is also used in Huel. Guar gum is a polysaccharide produced from the guar bean. The process of producing guar gum is very simple. Guar beans are harvested, dried and de-husked, before being milled and dried to form a white powder.
Figure 7 – Flow-chart demonstrating the process of manufacturing guar gum from guar beans, before being added to Huel
Xanthan gum and guar gum are both very effective stand-alone thickening agents and stabilisers, yet when blended, the individual properties work in synergy to result in a highly luxurious, creamy texture that is stable both at high and low temperatures and at varying pH. They also bind water molecules in the mixture to form an emulsification to prevent the ingredients from splitting. Due to their synergy, a small quantity is required to exhibit the desired outcome.
Both the xanthan gum and guar gum originate from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, are free from genetically modified ingredients.
To produce sucralose, sucrose undergoes a common chemical reaction method also used in drinking water. The bonding of atoms within the conversion process prevents sucralose from being broken down in the body for energy, resulting in sucralose being almost calorie-free. Sucralose is stable when heated and in varying pH conditions making it a very versatile ingredient. In the EU, sucralose is also known as E955 and it has shown to have an excellent safety profile. Due to the intense sweetness of sucralose, only a very small quantity is required compared to regular table sugar.
Once all ingredients have been milled, extracted, encapsulated, dried and converted into their powder form, they are sent to Huel’s blending depot in Devon, UK. Here the ingredients are, once more, carefully sieved and assessed to meet Huel’s high quality standards before being accurately calculated ready for blending.
It is imperative that Huel’s powder ingredients are thoroughly mixed to make sure all particles segregate and are distributed equally. The flavour, sweetness and micronutrients need to be evenly distributed. We use a dry-blending method which is viewed as the gold-standard process as it maintains the ingredients’ nutrient profile whilst ensuring product quality. The raw ingredients are weighed ready to be blended, using a blender that achieves a consistent, homogenous powder.
The powder then goes through a final sieve and metal detector, before being placed into Huel’s familiar white pouches. Further sets of tests are performed, known as ‘critical control points’ (CCPs). The aim of CCPs is to identify and control potential problems before they occur to maintain quality and safety.
The finished formula must be consistent in every batch. Taste tests and quality control evaluations are made prior to packing to maintain Huel’s high standards. Once all tests are passed and quality standards have been met, the batches are coded for traceability. Huel pouches are then boxed and palletised ready to be delivered to the Huel fulfilment centre.
BLUE: Taste testing controls
BLACK: Finished product
Figure 8 – Flow-chart demonstrating the process of blending and packing Huel powder
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