Vegetarian Softgel Capsules: The Ultimate Guide
Today, vegetarian Softgel capsules have become products of interest in the market.
They are perfect alternatives to people who want non-gelatin Softgel capsules.
And, today’s guide focuses on some of the most critical and essential facts about vegetarian Softgel capsules.
Scroll down to know more.
What are Vegetarian Softgel Capsules?
Again, vegetarian Softgels are just like any other type of Softgels.
As seen above, they’re soft and cylindrical like containers made for holding different types of materials, mostly oils and pastes.
The only different thing with veggie caps, as you can also call them, is the fact that they’re vegan-friendly.
That is, they’re made of 100% natural products, and don’t contain any animal products.
This makes their consumption easier for vegetarians.
Advantages of Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
Vegetarian Softgels have one significant benefit.
That is, they don’t contain gelatin material which is a derivative of animal waste.
As such, they satisfy the demand of vegetarians as they can be used without any fear of animal disease or infection.
Besides, being that they don’t use any animal materials, vegetarian capsules are often kosher and halal free.
Vegetarian softgel capsules
Meaning, consumers can take them without the fear of harming their religion in any way.
But is this all?
- Vegetarian Softgel capsules are easy to swallow as they help mask the smell and taste of the material filled inside it.
- These Softgels are chemically stable and have low moisture content, which makes them less brittle even in low humidity.
- Along with chemical stability, veggie caps have fast dissolution property. Therefore, they dissolve quickly within a few minutes after reaching the stomach, thus increasing the rate of bioavailability.
- You can get Vegetarian Softgels in almost all sizes. So you choose as per the amount of dosage you want to fill.
- Also, consumers in this market have come to prefer veggie Softgels because they have no taste or odor. They also are tamper-evident and are more aesthetically pleasing.
- Because they’re manufactured with plant-based materials instead of animal gelatin, these can meet the necessary claims for not just vegetarianism, but halal, kosher, and non-GMO product claims.
So in a nutshell, veggie caps offer similar benefits of gelatin capsules but with a few additional features.
The extra features tend to make them superior to traditional capsules.
What about the disadvantages?
Disadvantages of Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
Well, although they come with a wealth of advantages, vegetarian capsules like everything else have their downsides.
Tapioca Veggie Softgels
Firstly, they are more expensive than their traditional counterparts.
Veggie Softgelsalso comes with the challenge of formulation-manufacturers will understand this better.
You see, some materials, especially powdered ones, tend to not blend well into an oil base.
Note that this is usually a necessary step when formulating vegetable Softgels.
What’s worse, the physical characteristics of many vegetarian Softgel blends make it difficult to encapsulate all but the simplest oils.
Generally, the manufacturing procedure of vegetarian Softgel is complicated.
The process doesn’t just require unique gel formulations, but also specialized equipment and technology – which is entirely expensive.
All these lead to one major drawback for importers and distributors as well.
That is large minimum order requirements and the potential to be more expensive than conventional Softgels.
How Fast Vegetarian Capsules Dissolve
Since we said that vegetarian Softgel capsules dissolve faster, some of you are probably wondering how fast?
Well to be reiterate, veggie caps tend to dissolve pretty quickly.
The vegetable Softgels are known to be one of the industry’s most efficient delivery systems.
This is due to their high bioavailability and absorption rate.
For those wondering, bioavailability is the rate and extent to which a drug or substance is absorbed and become active.
This happens when the nutrients dissolve from their natural state into a liquid one.
And as vegetarian Softgels are already in a liquid state, nutrients can be absorbed by the body more readily.
A good example is the tapioca Softgel made from cassava.
Tapioca Softgel process
Also, the fiber composition of vegetarian Softgelstends to promote the uptake of their contents.
Generally, though, Softgel capsules are designed to dissolve in the stomach.
They are intended to start releasing their contents within minutes after swallowing.
Even if you ask, most manufacturers will tell you in approximately 30 minutes as that is the standard dissolution rate.
This means that in 20-30 minutes, the consumer’s stomach has dissolved the Softgel and absorption is already taking place into the bloodstream.
Note, however, that each brand of capsules is designed differently and that each consumer is also different.
So as you can see, this question is broad in scope and quite relative as ‘how fast’ is affected by numerous factors.
These include; humidity, stomach pH, capsule coating, capsule contents, the packing of the contents, etc.
Meaning, there are no exact times for complete dissolution of vegetarian capsules as all of these factors come into play.
As such, I think it will be safe to assume 20-30 minutes.
Vegetarian vs. Gelatin Softgel Capsules: Ultimate Comparison
We’ve mentioned severally that vegetarian Softgel capsules are the best alternative to gelatin capsules.
And that leads us to the next question: what is the difference between veggie caps and gelatin caps?
Here is a table highlighting the differences between vegetarian and gelatin Softgels more clearly.
|Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
|Animal Gelatin Capsules
|They’re made of vegetable byproducts
|They’re made of gelatin which is an animal by-product
|Less dependent on moisture content for integrity and thus cells are resistant to breakage even in dry conditions. They contain low moisture at about 2%–6% and are less hygroscopic.
This makes them highly stable and less affected by high humid conditions.
|Lower stability due to a higher moisture percentage. Thus tends to be highly sensitive to humidity
|Not susceptible to cross-linking and related problems
|Highly susceptible to cross-linking issues that lead to the reduced solubility
|Suitable for a variety of fill materials including aldehydic end-products
|Ideal for dry and powdered materials. May not be compatible with liquid materials especially oils and gels with aldehydic group
|Not light sensitive
|Highly sensitive to light. Exposing the capsules to light may lead to degradation of its contents
|Readily dissolves in water at room temperature
|Dissolution slows when the temperature drops below 37 degrees. It fails when the temperature is below 30 degrees.
|Highly permeable to oxidation due to looseness in its structure
|Has lower oxygen permeability
|Perfect for hygroscopic preparations
So which is better?
Certainly, vegetarian Softgel capsules stand out when it comes to the aspect of stability, and absorption and bioavailability.
Concerning solubility, both types of capsules dissolve well at body temperature.
Veggie caps, however, seem to dissolve better in the water at room temperature compared to the gelatin caps.
What’s more, vegetarian capsules are suitable to hold a range of fill materials while gelatin capsules can be limiting.
Gelatin capsules can easily degrade when filled with liquids and gels; especially those that contain aldehydic end products.
Despite the differences above, there still are many similarities between veggie capsules and gelatin capsules.
Firstly, for both Gelatin Capsules as well as HPMC Capsules, you can store them for many years without the risk of bacterial growth.
These have a longer shelf life than tradition capsules.
Secondly, both types of capsules are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, color and patterns to match the different needs of consumers.
Different sizes of softgel capsules
The choice is in your hands!
When choosing between these two types of capsules, consider your customers.
You can offer both keeping in mind that gelatin capsules are made of 100% bovine or tested gelatin.
So basically, they’re safe to use.
If you need to tend to vegetarian customers too, you can stock HMPC or vegetarian Softgels.
These will provide the same level of benefits, so you and your customers don’t need to worry about a thing.
Your capsule manufacturer will always offer both types of capsules to satisfy your needs and the demands of your customer.
So again, you don’t need to worry about a thing.
Ingredients of Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
As I’ve mentioned severally, vegetarian Softgel capsules are made out of plant derivatives.
The main component in this type of Softgels isHypromellose, which is short for HPMC (hydropropyl methylcellulose).
Structural formula of HPMC
Often, HPMC is loosely described as vegetable-derived cellulose.
Cellulose is nature’s most resource-rich natural polymer.
And, Hypromellose is usually derived from cotton linter or wood pulp made by etherification.
To put it simply, HPMC is a semi-synthetic product used to form the vegetable cellulose-based shell.
So basically, HPMC is the primary base ingredient used in the manufacturing of vegetarian Softgel capsules.
Other vegetarian softgels such as Tapioca starch softgels utilize vegetable starch as the main ingredient.
Being not of animal origin, vegetarian based capsules are suitable for individuals who have dietary or religious restrictions.
When I talk of restrictions, I mean restrictions that prevent them from consuming products from animal sources.
Now HPMC/starch is not the only ingredient in vegetarian Softgel manufacturing, others include;
- Vegetarian-friendly preservatives that producers use to increase the shelf life of the capsules
- Soluble contents mostly water that is used to dissolve the cellulose
- Gellan gum may be used as a gelling agent for delayed release veggie softgels
- Colored vegetable capsules also include colorings to increase their effectiveness and aesthetic appeal. The color used is often darker than the encapsulated material.
Colored Softgel capsules
- Opaque ones utilize opacifier to give them that darker shade that prevents photodegradation of light-sensitive fill materials.
- Some veggie caps may also include flavorings to improve their taste
- Others, as sources say, use plasticizers to help improve their flexibility and make them non-degradable
Apart from these, certain active ingredients are also used to make vegetarian Softgel capsules.
Mostly, these are vitamins or nutrients that you’ll always find on the label.
To confirm what active ingredients are used in manufacturing your batch of capsules, just the label.
Well, this is all about the ingredients used to make the vegetable Softgel shell.
Remember that for it to be a complete capsule, different types of materials are filled in it, depending on the dosage requirements.
Let’s find out what these materials can be in the next section.
Vegetarian Softgel Capsules Formulations
Apart from pharmaceutical drug delivery, vegetarian Softgel capsules are mostly preferred for filling nutritional supplements.
So if you’re catering to this market, you can consider the following fill formulations for your capsules;
1) Omega 3
Formulations containing omega-3s (EPA/DHA) are the most popular in the vegetarian Softgel capsules market.
Consumers, even non-vegetarians, spend a lot of money annually on omega-3 supplements.
This is to show you that supplying omega-3s is a wise business decision as these will always be in demand.
You know that omega-3s pack a wealth of benefits.
They are known to be effective in heart health, cognitive function, and anti-aging.
Now, the thing is that a majority of omega 3 supplements on the market are derived from fish products.
But for you that’s catering to the vegetarian market, you’ll need to stock omega 3s from plant sources as they are available too.
You can opt for omega-3s derived from chia seeds, flaxseeds or even algae.
As a supplier, though, you’ll have to convince your customer of the purity of the supplement.
This is because not many people believe that there are plant-based alternatives to omega-3.
So you’ll have to invest a lot in consumer education.
2) Vitamin E Vegan Softgel
Vitamin E packs superior antioxidant properties.
It is popularly used for heart health and anti-aging applications.
So if your market is primed for anti-aging supplements, then include vitamin E formulations in your fill options.
3) Vitamin D Softgel Formulations
We know that vitamin D can be challenging to obtain from most foods, more so if the diet is restricted.
And being an essential nutrient, vitamin D supplements are becoming a staple for a majority of vegetarians.
So there generally is potential in the market for vitamin D.
You can pair this with calcium and magnesium in bone health formulations.
4) Flaxseed Oil Vegan Softgel
Flax seed oil
In a market that’s heavily saturated with omega-3s, flaxseed oil present a lucrative opportunity for vegetarian softgels suppliers.
This oil has some amazing health benefits that range from improving heart and skin health to reducing inflammation.
The only challenge with flaxseed oil formulations is that they contain ALA (alpha-linoleic acids)
ALA does not contain the same benefits as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Nonetheless, for consumers that can’t take animal products for whatever reason, flaxseed oil softgels are the perfect alternative.
You can also offer nutritional oils such as krill oil, evening primrose, virgin coconut oil, and borage oil in vegetarian softgels.
Although these may not be as popular as the ones we’ve mentioned above, you can broaden their appeal by flaunting their GLA content.
We know that GLA (gamma linoleic acid) is known to be useful in hormonal balancing.
It also has some quality inflammatory properties.
For virgin coconut oil, you can flaunt its lauric acid content that can maintain the immune system and heart health.
Virgin coconut oil
There still are limitations on the formulations that vegan softgels can accommodate.
However, with the ever-increasing advances in technology, the capsules will be able to accommodate a range of formulations.
The rising interests and demand for reliable supplementation among vegetarians should also give you hope.
So don’t fear to stock up on quality vegetarian softgel capsules and formulations.
Just make sure that you’re getting them from a cGMP certified manufacturer.
Also, remember to always seek guidance from your manufacturer on the best vegan capsule for your formulation.
Vegetarian Softgel Capsules Manufacturing Process
The manufacturing process of vegetable Softgel capsules is similar to that of ordinary softgels, only for these, plant cellulose is used.
The process can be divided into the following steps;
· Preparation Shell material
For vegetarian capsule manufacturing, HPMC is mixed with other ingredients such as water, glycerin, plasticizers, coloring etc.
The solution is then heated at high temperature for several hours.
Note that the proportions of each ingredient in the solution are carefully considered.
This is because the shell materials need to be adapted to the formulation and/or environmental requirements.
· Fill Material Preparation
A homogenous fill material plays a vital role in ensuring uniformity of each veggie Softgel.
Several types of equipmentare used in this step, such as processing tanks, mixers, homogenizer, and a variety of mills.
Remember that vegetable softgels are usually filled with oils or pastes.
Oil mixtures are easier to formulate. Here, the oils are just mixed and the deposited into a ground material tank.
· Encapsulation of Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
Now from the ground material tank, the filling mixture is moved to the hopper of the Softgel encapsulation machine.
Through a rotary die process, the capsule shell and the fill material are brought together simultaneously to form the Softgel capsules.
Rotary Softgel encapsulation process
· DryingVegetarian Softgel Capsules
From the encapsulating machine, the now soft and moist softgels are moved to drying drums or chambers for rapid drying.
The extent of drying often depends on the size of the capsule and the number of capsules.
The period over which the moisture can dry off is also an essential element of consideration.
Please note that is aimed at decreasing the moisture content and create hard and durable Softgel capsules ready for packaging.
And that this happens in two stages:
First, the moist softgels are put in a tumble dryer that tumbles them for about 40 minutes removing at least 25% of the moisture.
After this, the softgels are spread onto stackable trays and then transferred to a drying room where high air pressure exists.
Here, the capsules stay between 24-48 hours or until they’re hard enough.
· InspectionVegetarian Softgel Capsules
Defects in Softgel
Due to air pockets in the molten gel and fill materials and distinct production tolerances, the softgels may vary in size.
Thus, they must be inspected to remove any misshaped, damaged and/or not filled capsules.
Note that this process is usually done manually on an inspection table.
It is also only suitable for small volume production.
For larger batch sizes, fully automatic Softgel sorting machines are used for improved accuracy and efficiency.
Softgel sorting machine
· Testing Vegetarian Softgel Capsules
After inspection, testing is done to ensure the quality of the softgels is at par with the given specifications.
Testing is done on the;
- Capsule appearance
- Active ingredient assay
- Related substances assay
- Fill weight
- Content uniformity
- Microbial testing
· Polishing and PackagingVegetarian Softgel Capsules
The final step before packaging is to clean and polish the Softgel capsules to remove any impurities or excess material on the softgel coat.
Tumbling is the most used method of cleaning the capsules.
Washing solvents are also used, sometimes.
Once polished, softgels then packaged inappropriate materials that are safe and convenient for shipping and storage.
Uses of vegetarian Softgel capsules
Vegetarian softgels are used in a wide range of applications i.e.
- Veggie caps are used in the Nutraceutical industry to supply nutritional supplements in the form of vitamins, minerals, herbs, fatty acids etc.
- They are also used as delivery systems for beauty supplements in the Nutracosmetics industry
- In the pharmaceutical industry, veggie caps are used as an oral dosage form for patients with dietary restrictions.
- Due to their excellent dissolution property, vegetarian Softgel capsules are also used as suppositories for rectal use, or vaginal use
In a nutshell, veggie caps are the perfect alternative for vegetarians to take their medicine and supplements without any fear.
They’re available in similar physical dimensions as that of gelatin capsules.
These also offer technical or practical benefits to both end users and suppliers as well.
As such, if your market calls for capsules without any animal waste, you can try stocking these vegetarian capsules.
These will give customers similar benefits as those of gelatin capsules, but without compromising their vegetarian religion.