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What is Avicel?

By U. Ahern
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Discovered accidentally by Dr. O.A. Battista, avicel is a microcrystalline cellulose powder. Available both as a fine powder and a gel, it can be used to replace dry or fat-based ingredients in food preparation and adds no taste, calories, smell, or nutrition to the food. Wood is chemically treated to extract naturally occurring cellulose to create avicel. This purified cellulose can then be used in food preparation, makeup, and sunscreen products.

Batitsta made his discovery when working to develop a strong rayon tire cord. He thought that if he could break the cellulose into extremely tiny pieces that he would be able to use it to create a strong chord. Using a blender to mix cellulose and water, he hoped the smallest pieces would sink to the bottom after the electric blender had done its work. After a quarter hour rest period, the substance in the blender resembled thick white custard. These were not the results he was expecting, so he continued with further tests.

Cellulose, found abundantly in grass and trees, has no ill effects on cows, termites, and other consumers. It was tested to see if it could also be used in food for people, and eventually approved as an inert filler in food.

In gel form, avicel can replace a portion of the fat in food. It works equally well in ice cream and salad dressing, adds no calories, and controls ice crystal growth so frozen items stay smooth and creamy. Salad dressing, sour cream, and other emulsions containing fat retain their glossy appearance and rich flavor. Honey, syrup, sauces, and butter have all been successfully paired with this substance.

The powdered form of avicel can replace up to half the flour needed to bake a cake or a loaf of bread. It is not soluble in liquid, so it retains its properties in cooking. Blind taste tests showed that tasters could not distinguish the taste of the enhanced food from the regular-recipe food. As a non-food, inert filler, it does not change the flavor or masque any flavors or textures.

Discovered more than two decades ago, avicel has continued to be a boon in the food industry. Both wet and dry products can be produced with lower calories without sacrificing flavor and texture. The pharmaceutical industry uses it as filler in pills, and it has even made its way into sunscreen and makeup. This product stabilizes spray on sunscreen without diminishing the effectiveness.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996455 — On Sep 02, 2016

The point [that we maybe shouldn't eat it] is not that it is also used in makeup and drugs. The point is that it is "chemically treated".


By anon995605 — On May 12, 2016

What is the lignin content proportion in Avicel? Are there any Nanocrystalline Cellulose?

By anon994972 — On Mar 21, 2016

@SalmonRiver: You are not sure how to feel about eating something that is also used in sunscreen and makeup? Do you know how silly that sounds?

Water is also used in sunscreen and makeup, but if you try going the rest of your life not consuming water or anything with water in it and you'll likely be dead in a few days.

By anon991556 — On Jun 29, 2015

Cellulose is the same as high quality paper, and cotton. Avicel is crystallized cellulose. Crystals are organized molecules aligned in parallel. The contrasting form is amorphous, which is just random tangles of molecules. Humans can't digest it, and you wouldn't want to eat a lot of it as it would cause gas, bloating, and discomfort. A little is harmless to eat. It passes right through you. - Tim at Earth Nurture.

By anon947383 — On Apr 25, 2014

Is avicel an anti inflammatory?

By anon943472 — On Apr 01, 2014

Avicel is cellulose; it comes from wood pulp. It provides no nutrition. It is not food. We are not beavers. We are humans, so why should I eat wood pulp.

By anon941003 — On Mar 20, 2014

We are in the pharmaceutical industry, and would like to help to answer all of these questions.

Avicel is used as a filler in pharmaceutical pills or tablets. Some drugs have low dosage, such as 25mg, which will make the pill too small to process into a tablet puncher. Avicel helps to add mass and volume to the drug without interrupting its effect. Avicel is already being used widely in pharmaceutical industry, approved by the FDA. You just don't know it.

By anon356038 — On Nov 21, 2013

What are the effects of putting Avicel in our food? Does it cause intestinal problems? Gas? Bloating? Not really sure if I want to ingest this product.

By anon266944 — On May 08, 2012

How does Avicel used in a medication allow the medication to get out? I was under the impression that cellulose is not digestible by humans. I guess I will have to look more into it.

By Mor — On May 12, 2011

I had never heard of this ingredient before. I wonder, since it has no calories, whether it slows down or speeds up the sustained release of glucose into the blood stream after eating. If it helps to slow it down, it could be useful for diabetics or people who have insulin resistance. If it doesn't effect the blood sugar at all, it would depend on what it is replacing, I suppose. Flour speeds up blood sugar release, so replacing that would slow it down. Fat slows down blood sugar release, so replacing that would speed it up.

I wonder if it is available to bake with at home?

By SalmonRiver — On May 10, 2011

I'm not sure how I feel about eating something that is also used in sunscreen and makeup. But, I can definitely see the benefit of avicel being used to replace fat and calorie content. Avicel's use as an excipient is good, too. With so many ingredients in some medications, it is positive to have an inert substance added instead.

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