The Value Of Trehalose In Food

An earthworm. Its skin contains trehalose protecting it from dessication.

Trehalose in food use has been cited as potentially preserve protein structure during thermal processes. It is a non-reducing disaccharide of glucose and is found in anhydrobiotic organisms (ones that survive extreme dessication usually by halting metabolic activity).  However, the most important function of trehalose is its ability to protect biomolecules against environmental stress caused by desiccation, dehydration, heat, cold, and oxidation.

The resurrection bush relies on trehalose to protect its delicate protein structures during dessication from the desert sun. As soon as it rains the trehalose redissolves and the cellular structures are revivified and begin functioning.

Structure Of Trehalose

Trehalose is a stable, colorless, odor-free and nonreducing disaccharide consisting of two glucose units linked in an alpha,alpha-1,1-glycosidic bond.

Function Of Trehalose

It has generated interest for many biologists because of its ability to protect and preserve cellular membranes (Crowe et al., 1987). It is also valuable for protecting bacteria in extreme conditions such as osmotic stress (Csonka  1989). It may have properties for helping to preserve food stuffs, especially during drying. It’s also used to help preserve yeasts and other dry organisms during and after spray drying (Buitink & Leprince, 2004) and preserve stability of enzymes such as lactate dehydrogenase (Adler  and Lee, 1999).

Trehalose is also a humectant with the important function of reducing water activity in foods to which it is added.

How Does Trehalose Work In Stabilizing Organisms And Food Stuffs

The behaviour of trehalose for stabilizing foods and organisms can be explained using the concepts of glass transition behaviour and water substitution (Crowe et al., 1984).

In the water substitution model, trehalose forms hydrogen bonds with proteins in cell membranes. It substitutes for water when in the dehydrated state so that the hydrated structure of the food or biomaterial is maintained.

In the glass transition model, trehalose assumes a glassy state when dehydrated. A glassy solid is extremely viscous and any food structures are effectively immobilized within in it.

The glass transition property of hydrophilic amorphous materials like trehalose are characterized by the effect of water content on the glass transition temperature (Tg‐curve) (Slade & Levine, 1991).  


It can serve as a source of energy and carbon and may participate in the actions of metabolism.

 A number of patents exist describing a variety of applications involving freeze drying. US Patent 5,026,566 (Roser, 1991) describes processes whereby orange juice concentrate containing 15% w/w/ trehalose was spray dried, coffee extracts, tomato and milk also receive similar treatment.


Adler, M.,  Lee, G. (1999)  Stability and surface activity of lactate formance of a bench-top spray dryer for protein aerosol dehydrogenase in spray dried trehalose. J. Pharm. Sci. 88  pp.  199–208.

Buitink, J., & Leprince, O. (2004). Glass formation in plant anhydrobiotes: Survival in the dry stateCryobiology48(3), pp. 21528. (Article)

Crowe, J. H.Crowe, L. M., & Chapman, D. (1984). Preservation of membranes in anhydrobiotic organisms: the role of trehaloseScience223(4637), pp. 701703 (Article).  

Crowe, J.H., Crowe LM, Carpenter JF, Aurell Wistrom C. (1987)  Stabilization of dry phospholipid bilayers and proteins by sugars. Biochem.  J.  242(1)  pp. 1–10.

Csonka, L.N. (1989) Physiological and genetic responses of bacteria to osmotic stress.  Microbiol. Rev.  53(1)  pp. 121–147

Slade, L., & Levine, H. (1991). Beyond water activity: Recent advances based on an alternative approach to the assessment of food quality and safetyCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition30(2‐3), pp. 115360

Roser, B.J. (1991) Dried Food Containing Trehalose And Method For Preparing Same. US Patent 5,026,566 June 25th.

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