Microcrystalline Cellulose: The Most Popular Food Additive in the 21st Century


Microcrystalline cellulose is considered to be one of the most popular and most important ingredients in cosmetics, foods, pharmaceutical drugs, and other products. Microcrystalline cellulose is derived from wood pulp and is known to be a white, odorless, and powdery substance. Chemically speaking, this is an inert substance, which is not digested during the digestion period and does not get absorbed either. It can give off a laxative effect if consumed in large quantities; it also provides dietary bulk

Microcrystalline cellulose has been used in the pharmaceutical industry for decades now due to its amazing compressibility, which can be used as a solid dose form in the shape of tablets. Microcrystalline cellulose allows hard tablets to be formed, which can quickly dissolve in water. This substance is the same as cellulose but is good enough to be used in products and even food because it meets the standards of safety and consumption.

Microcrystalline cellulose is even used in processed foods and can also be used as:

  • Stabilizer
  • Texture modifier
  • Anti-caking agent

This substance is considered to be safe in normal quantities under the Select Committee on GRAS Substances.

The Use of Microcrystalline Cellulose in Pharmacy

Microcrystalline cellulose tablets are extremely common; you may even find them in some of the pills and tablets in your medicine cabinet. You will be able to spot this ingredient as an inactive ingredient. Some examples include:

  • Alprazolam
  • Acetaminophen
  • Oxycodone

Many personal products also contain microcrystalline cellulose. Microcrystalline cellulose is inert when it is on its own, which is why it is easy to compress. The compressibility makes it the perfect product for pharmaceutical industries.

In more simple terms, microcrystalline cellulose is said to be an excipient, which is an inactive material that is meant to be used with an active substance. Microcrystalline cellulose helps add bulk to active ingredients by making them consumable in a deliverable dosed format. This is compressed into tablets, and once in the digestive system, microcrystalline cellulose easily breaks down and is passed out since it cannot actually be digested.

The Presence of Microcrystalline Cellulose in Markets

Pharmaceutical companies are not the only ones that make use of microcrystalline cellulose. This is because microcrystalline cellulose also helps play a big role in the food industry. In fact, this substance has become an extremely popular ingredient in the food. When microcrystalline cellulose is added to foods, it helps with the texture without adding any flavor to it.

Microcrystalline cellulose is easily mixable and bindable with water. It is also known to have gelling properties. Microcrystalline cellulose can act like an emulsifier, which means it suspends the ingredients in a solution and stops water from separating out of it. Thus, microcrystalline cellulose will tie together two resistant liquids similar to oil and water.

This substance is meant to stand as a high-calorie ingredient. The cell structure is similar to fat, and microcrystalline cellulose can also be found present in reduce fat products. The microcrystalline cellulose can be whipped and made into ice cream, put on top of deserts, which makes food creamy without actually adding any fat. Adding this bulk to the food without adding many calories makes the person eating the food feel full, without crossing the calorie limit.

Where Else is Microcrystalline Cellulose Used?

It is used as dietary fiber; it helps keep canned soup and sauces in a semi-liquid state, which keeps them stable, prevents caking, helps make a powdered drink, is present in spice mixes, and allows a free fallow of products in shredded as well as grated cheese.

Is it Safe to Use Microcrystalline Cellulose?

The FDA has allowed food companies to make use of cellulose, saying that it is harmless and an organic additive to food. Manufacturers are allowed to add microcrystalline cellulose into their product so that it makes up to four percent of it.

Microcrystalline cellulose that is present in meat products is a slightly different amount since the USDA is responsible for meat. They have rules that meat products can only contain 3.5 percent microcrystalline cellulose.

Many believe that microcrystalline cellulose is just an extra added filler to products, but it is considered to be more expensive than other carbohydrate fillers like sugar or starch. Microcrystalline cellulose is not made from Genetically Modified Plants (GMO) like starch is. It is also not harvested; rather, it is gathered from sustainable forests.

The Difference Between Cellulose and Starch

Cellulose and starch are both mostly added in packaged and processed foods. They both have a similar structure because they are glucose-based polymers, which are known to be substances that contain like units bonding together.

Cellulose is a more common and natural polymer. Things such as cotton, paper, and food are known to contain fiber-rich cellulose. Starch is also considered a polymer and is the most common carbohydrate in many people’s diets. Substances such as potatoes, wheat, rice, and corn all contain an abundance of starch within them.

In cellulose, the glucose unit is connected with beta linkages, and in starch, the glucose units are connected by alpha linkages. This means that you can chew cellulose all you want, but it still will not get digested by your stomach and is thus passed out as stool.

The human body does not contain the enzymes needed to break down cellulose. However, cows are capable of digesting cellulose from a plant. They are able to do this by processing the cellulose with symbiotic bacteria in the four-chambered guts. Termites can also digest cellulose since they contain the enzyme needed to break down wood.

When compared, starch is something that can be digested and used, but this means extra calories as well. Our body is capable of breaking starch into glucose, which can be used as energy in the future.


Microcrystalline cellulose seems to have made its way into every industry in the world. Its flavorless properties have made it a highly demanding substance for almost all businesses. The food we so often consume due to its fast service also contains microcrystalline cellulose. While many people worry about the addition of this substance, it is important to know that a small quantity of it is safe to consume. Since it is now prominent in our industry, it will stay until and unless people ask continuously for changes to be made.

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