Tapioca/cassava modified starch and starch derivatives in China: Production and use

Due to rapid economic development and increasing market demand after the 1980s, research on the production of modified starch and starch derivatives developed very quickly in China.

This post describes the present situation and the development potential of modified starch, starch sweeteners, saccharide alcohol, degradable starch plastics, oligo-saccharides, and lactic acid made from cassava starch in China, including the production and use of the most popular products.

Progress made, and future planning for developing these products will also be discussed.

Industrial Development of Starch in China

In recent years the production and application of starch, modified starch, and starch derivatives developed rapidly, in line with the overall development of the Chinese economy (Table 1).

The development of starch derivatives depends mainly on the rapid growth of the starch industry.

From 1989 to 1998, the total production of Chinese starch increased about 2.7 times, from 1.12 to nearly 3 million tonnes. The scale of the starch factories has also grown considerably while their numbers have decreased (Table 2).

Production of cassava starch showed a similar trend. Guangxi is the largest cassava-producing province in China, with cassava production there accounting for more than 50% of total national production. The cassava planted area, total fresh cassava root production, and starch output are shown in Table 3.

As indicated in Table 3, from 1989 to 1998, the cassava planted area increased by 24%, the yield by 72%, new root production by 113%, and cassava starch production by 170%.

Modified Starch and its Applications in China

The present situation of Chinese modified starch

Recently, the modified starch industry in China has developed rapidly (see Table 1); modified starch production in 1998 was 7.5 times greater than in 1989. This has been the result of the following factors:

  • Production of starch in China has increased rapidly, so the starch factories had to search for new markets.
  • The demand for modified starch from various industries increased very quickly.
  • With the opening up and reform of the Chinese scientific system, a more creative technological development framework was established, resulting in new progress in research, development, and utilization of modified starch.
  • As new foreign technologies were introduced, demand for modified starch increased.
  • New enterprises have high-quality requirements, so demand for modified starch with high-added value increased.
StarchModified starchCrystal glucoseLiquid Glucose
% increase since 19891676504477
Table 1. Production (in ‘000 t) of starch, modified starch, crystal glucose, and liquid glucose in China from 1989 to 1998.
Number of starch factories388243157
Total annual capacity (million tonnes)1,1671,5202,978
Average power (t/year)29006255
Number of factories of >100,000 t/year capacity143767
Number of factories of >200,000 t/year capacity002
Table 2. The scale of the starch industry in China.
YearPlanted area
(‘000 ha)
Fresh root production
(‘000 t)
Starch production
(‘000 t)
Table 3. Cassava planted area, total fresh root production, and starch production from 1989 to 1998 in Guangxi province of China.

Types of Chinese modified starch

Modified starch can be divided into three main groups according to the modification process utilized.

These three groups are further subdivided according to processes and products:

  • Physically modified starch: Pyrodextrin (white dextrin, yellow dextrin, soluble dextrin), Pregelatinized starch (α-starch), Fractionated starch (amylose, amylopectin).
  • Chemically modified starch: oxidized starch, esterified starch, etherified starch, graft co-polymerized starch.
  • Enzymatically modified starch: Enzyme degradation starch (maltodextrin, cyclodextrin).

Current and future applications of modified starch

China modified starch has an excellent development prospect (Table 5). The paper and cardboard industry of China in 1996 consumed 300 thousand tonnes.

Moreover, for the papermaking industry in China, unlike in most other countries, wood pulp is a minor raw material, while the primary raw materials are straw pulp and bagasse. The straw pulp fiber is shorter, and of lower strength, so it needs more modified starch.

The proportion of modified starch used in the American papermaking industry is 2%.

It is estimated that the consumption of modified starch in China’s papermaking industry will be above 700,000 tonnes.

Other industries, such as textile, food, medicine, and materials used for construction and environmental protection, consume a lot of modified starch.

Advantages and development prospects of modified cassava starch

Cassava starch is characterized by low pasting temperature, high viscosity, and easy enzymatic hydrolysis. Pregelatinized starch and cationic starch made from cassava starch have particular quality advantages.

ProductProduction processApplication
Yellow dextrinHeat for roastingCasting, construction materials
White dextrinHeat for roastingBinding agents in medicines
Pregelatinized starchDried and milled by drumFeed, casting, construction materials
Oxidized starchOxidized by the oxidizing agentBinding agent for cardboard, textile, food
Acid-hydrolyzed starchHydrolyzed by acidFood, sizing for fabrics, paper making
Starch acetateEsterification by acetic acidPapermaking, textile, casting, food, snack food
Cationic starchEtherification by trimethyl aminePaper pulp additive coating
Complex modified starchPaper pulp additive coating
Carboxymethyl starchEtherification by chloroacetic acidLubricant for oil drilling medicine, construction materials
Hydroxy-propyl starchFood, candy
Cross-linked starchFood, medicine, textile, and chemical industry
Graft co-polymerized starchGraft co-polymerized by acrylonitrileHigh water-absorbent materials, such as disposable diapers, female napkins, textile sizing material
Table 4. Top modified starch products in China, their production process, and application.
Application of modified starch productsCurrent productionCurrent domestic market volumeExpected future domestic market volume
Animal feedX100200
Construction materialsX5080
Oil drillingX3050
Fine chemicalsX1030
Table 5. The current and future markets for Chinese modified starch (‘000 tonnes).

Pregelatinized starch: About 10,000 tonnes of pregelatinized starch are produced annually in Guangxi.

The quality of pregelatinized starch from cassava starch is better than that from maize starch, resulting in good market demand and a 10% higher price than that made from maize starch.

Cationic starch: Approximately 10,000 tonnes of tri-methyl amine cationic starch are produced annually in Guangxi.

The cationic starch made from cassava has a low viscosity and a high degree of substitution, making it especially suitable for the sizing and coating high-speed papermaking machines.

Recently, the Guangxi Nanning Cassava Technical Development Center, in cooperation with the Mingyang Starch Factory, succeeded in developing a solid process for cationic starch production.

The degree of substitution of the product is higher than that of the original wet process, there is no pollution, and the production cost is 20% lower, giving it a solid competitive advantage

Besides, Guangxi also produces oxidized starch, starch acetate, amphoteric starch, yellow dextrin, starch phosphate, etc.

Starch-based Sweeteners

China has a 3000 years history of producing sweeteners made from starch.

Ancient China was the first to invent sugar production from plants’ raw materials, especially maltose from rice starch.

Starch-based sweetener production started with the manufacture of malt syrup.

At present, China produces several kinds of starch-based sweeteners, as indicated below:

Glucose syrup

After the starch is hydrolyzed by enzymes or acid, malt syrup is obtained and divided into high-DE, medium-DE, and low-DE syrups according to their different DE values, as shown in Table 6.


Table 7 shows several types of maltose syrups produced in China.

Fresh wheat bran contains a considerable amount of β-glucosidase, an enzyme that can decompose starch molecules to produce maltose; this technology is used for creating maltose syrup in China.


Table 8 lists the principal types, characteristics, and uses of glucose produced in China. So far, China has mainly four production technologies for glucose, as indicated in Table 9.

Conversion and isomerization sweeteners

In the Chinese market, we have four types of fructose-glucose products, as shown in Table 10.

ProductDE valueDegree of hydrolysisMain ingredientsProduct formUsage
Malt dextrin10-15Lowlow molecule dextrin malt polymaltose iso-maltose glucosepowder liquidmilk powder, substitute solid drink, oral soluble dosage food
Malt syrup25-35Mediummaltose glucose maltotrioseliquid 70-80o Bxconfectionery
Glucose syrup42-55Mediumglucose maltoseliquid 70-84o Bxconfectionery
Liquid Glucose75-94Highglucose maltose malt poly-saccharide saltliquid 70o Bxsyrup, food, antifreeze, sorbitol
Mother liquid of glucose75-80Highliquid 60o Bxcaramel-coloring, antifreeze, sorbitol
Table 6. Glucose syrups of different DE values.
ProductMaltose content (%)CharacteristicsUsage
Maltose<50liquid, sweet, sensitive to moisturedaily food
High-maltose syrup50-75liquid, sweet, sensitive to moisturespecial food
Super-high-maltose syrup75-95liquid, sweetspecial food
Crystal maltose90strong water absorptionspecial food
Crystal anhydrous maltose90highly solubledehydrating agent
High purity maltose99high purityinjection solution
Table 7. Types and characteristics of maltose produced in China
Usage1996 Production
(‘000 t)
Medical anhydrous glucoseChina Pharmacopoeia 19955200injectable solution20
Medical glucoseChina Pharmacopoeia 19954500injectable solution120
Oral glucoseChina Pharmacopoeia 19954200food; sorbitol for the production of Vitamin C50
Industrial glucoseIndustrial grade3900general industrial use of sorbitol production40
Industrial total powder sugarDE 903000industrial use20
Table 8. Main types of glucose in the Chinese market.
Production processMixingAcid liquificationEnzymatic liquefactionAcid saccharificationEnzymatic saccharificationDecoloration and filteringConcentration
Acid process
Enzymatic process
Acid-enzymatic process
Enzymatic acid process
Table 9. China’s glucose production technology.
Product nameViscosityFructose content (%)Sweetness compared to sucroseUsage
Fructose-glucose syrup70 Bx420.9food
High-fructose syrup75 Bx551.1soft drinks
High-purity fructose syrup80 Bx901.6special drinks
Crystalline Fructosesolid>981.8special food/drinks
Table 10. Various fructose-glucose products are produced in China.



The enzyme transglucosidase (TG) interacts with maltose and glucose, resulting in an inversion reaction, which produces iso-maltose, panose, iso-malto-triose, etc.

Oligo-iso-maltose can not be digested and fermented by yeast, but it can be used by Bifidobacterium iridium to enhance its reproduction; this is good for the intestinal bacterial colonies and elevates the proportion of favorable settlements resulting in a healthy functioning of the digestive system.

This kind of oligo-iso-maltose has been produced in the starch industry; the procedure is as follows:

1) liquify starch milk with the use of α-amylase;

2) saccharify with the combination of β-amylase and glucose group invertase; β-amylase yields maltose, invertase yields iso-maltose and panose through the linking of α-1,6 link yield glucose and maltose.

3) refine and concentrate to 75%. A colorless, transparent solution is obtained, which contains the following substances (dry weight basis): 16.9% iso-maltose, 12.5% panose, 3.4% iso-malto-triose, 6.7% maltose, and 40.5% glucose. The content of iso- 560 maltose can be elevated to as high as 85% with resin chromatography while glucose is removed.


Oligo-fructose is one of the edible enhancement and function foods. Because the bio-reactions of oligo-fructose are almost the same as short-link soluble cellulose, it can be used as a source of edible cellulose.

In China, oligo-fructose is now produced on an industrial scale and marketed. The first production line of 3000 t/year was set up in Yunnan province.

Researchers of Guangxi University used the immobile enzyme to produce oligo-fructose successfully; a 1000 t/year production line has been built.

Besides oligo-iso-maltose and oligo-fructose, new oligo-saccharides, such as oligo-saccharide, oligo-mannose, etc., have also been researched.

Hydrogenated Sweeteners


Sorbitol is the primary raw material for the production of vitamin C. It is also a favored sweetener for diabetic patients and can function as an effective moisture absorbent; it absorbs water strongly, so it has been used widely in the production of toothpaste and cosmetics.

The present diversity and characteristics of various sorbitol-based products in China are shown in Table 11.


Mannitol is the only polyol that is solid under normal conditions. It is a favored medicine for diuretic and dehydration problems.

Mannitol is one of the essential medicines in all hospitals. In industry, mannitol is the primary raw material for producing polyester and polyether, crucial raw materials for making foamed plastic.

Currently, mannitol in China’s market is mainly derived from seaweed, with an annual production capacity of 8,000 tonnes. The cost is high, and the production process is out of date.

In recent years China has developed a new technology, which uses sucrose or glucose to manufacture mannitol, and has begun industrial production.

Hydrolysis of sucrose can yield the inversion sugars fructose and glucose, producing 25% mannitol and 75% sorbitol, respectively, when hydrogenated.

After special isomerization, part of the glucose can be inverted to mannose and fructose, yielding 42% mannitol and 58% sorbitol when hydrogenated.

Recently, research on the adoption of a simulated fluid bed to separate mannitol
and sorbitol has been successful.


Maltol is a new type of dietary supplement produced by hydrogenating maltose. Maltol is a transparent, colorless, or lightly yellow solution.

Maltol is non-fermentable, so it may be used to prevent dental decay; it is low in calories, so it may be used to avoid obesity; it has good flavor with a sweetness of 90% of that of sucrose; it has a high viscosity and may be used as a thickener; moreover, it has high heat and acid resistance, good moisture retention, so may be used for moisture adjustment.

561 it hardly decomposes by insulin, so it can be used as food for people with diabetes. About 10,000 tonnes are produced annually in China, mainly using cassava starch.

Characteristicvitamin C productiondetergent and cosmetics productiontoothpaste productionInjectable Sorbitol lHard crystal sorbitolSolid sorbitolIcy sorbitol
Appearancecolorless and transparent solutioncolorless and transparent solutioncolorless and transparent solutionwhite powderwhite hard granuleswhite soft granulesicy
Degree of substitution45-5167-7369-7199.599.599.098.0
Specific weight(gm/ml)1.2281.280-1.316>1.285
Refractive index1.42>1.4601.459-1.461
Reducing sugar (%)>0.20.63>
Main usageraw material for vitamin Cfood, cosmetics, detergentstoothpastemedical injection solutionfood gumchemicals and foodchemicals
and food
Relative price1.
Table 11. Sorbitol-based products and applications in China’s market.

Organic Acids

Besides citric acid and acetic acid, two kinds of organic acids using starch as the raw material have been developed successfully.

Lactic acid

Lactic acid is an essential organic acid; it can be used in the production of beer for adjustment of the pH of the malt, in the pharmaceutical industries, and the production of cosmetics, fine chemicals, tobacco, food, and silk.

Stearoyl lactate sodium and calcium salts are the most critical lactate salts, a general food additive used worldwide.

Monoglyceride lactate ester is an emulsifier suitable for producing biscuits, meats, milk products, fruit jams, and pectin.

In recent years, researchers have developed L-lactic acid, i.e., poly-lactic acid, an ideal fully-degradable plastic material, and easier to produce industrially.

Therefore, research on lactic acid in China has developed very fast. Presently, a 10,000 t/year L-lactic acid production line is under construction.

Itaconic acid

Itaconic acid and its esters are excellent additives and raw materials for manufacturing synthetic resins, plastic, rubber, ion-exchange resins, surfactants, anti-rust agents, etc.

Yunnan and Hubei provinces have produced the enzyme for itaconic acid. These factories succeeded in making itaconic acid from native cassava starch. So far, China has produced more than 5,000 tonnes of itaconic acid.

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