Confectioners can tailor their products with sweeteners that meet a broad range of consumer needs, be it natural alternatives or simply sugar-free substitutes. 

By Carla Zanetos Scully

There’s not much candy manufacturers can do about the high costs of sugar these days. It is - as many well know - the cost of doing business.   

Nevertheless, confectioners can capitalize on another trend that’s demonstrating growth,  the constant desire by consumerers to lower calories.    

“The big news for sweeteners in confectionery is the growing consumer interest in reduced-sugar,” says Jason Hecker, vice president of global marketing at PureCircle USA, Oak Brook, Ill. “Consumers don’t want to give up the foods they love but now they want those foods to be lower in sugar and all-natural.”   

The World Health Organization estimates 1.6 billion adults and 20 million children under the age of 5 globally are overweight. Hecker says Pure Circle’s research indicates that more than half of primary shoppers are concerned about calories and that 80% of moms care about the amount of sugar their children eat. “Naturally, confectionery manufacturers are looking for solutions to respond,” he says. “But our research shows that traditional zero-calorie artificial sweeteners have not been generally accepted for the entire family.”   

Stevia by PureCircle is not only zero-calorie, but the extracts from the plant can yield up to 400 times the sweetness of sugar, asserts Hecker. “So a little adds a lot of sweet and it will not affect blood sugar levels, making it perfect for diabetics.”   

The company recently teamed up with Barry Callebaut for the Health Ingredients Europe trade show in November in Madrid, Spain, to create a no-sugar added dark chocolate sweetened with stevia that attained a 90% reduction in total sugar content compared to standard dark chocolate, Hecker notes. The all-natural sweetener is also being used in mints and gum as well, he says.   Jim Mitchell, manager of innovation and development at Ciranda Inc. also points out that there’s a parallel push recently to move away from cane sugar and corn syrup to more natural and organic sweeteners.  

 Hudson, Wis.-based Ciranda manufactures Tapiok Tapioca Syrups, which when used in confectionery products, provide an organic sweetener substitute to sucrose and fructose. It still has the same calories and actually a high GI, but it provides functions not associated with sugar or fructose syrup such as binding, viscosity and crystal control, he says.   

“Fructose isn’t bad, over consumption is bad,” Mitchell explains. It’s when an individual consumes more than 80 grams of fructose a day, he notes, that’s when a fatty liver and other health issues can develop.   

Thus, the increased interest in natural sweetener substitutes, Mitchell notes. “People are starting to focus on eating their way to health and lashing back against complicated labels,” he says. “Some (of the labels) look like a chemistry shopping list and not what you make in your own kitchen. There’s a drive toward simpler labels, meaning finding simpler sugars.”

TapoikTapioca Syrups are used in hard candies, caramels, nougats and marshmallows to control crystallization. Cane sugar can crystallize above certain concentrations, Mitchell explains, causing candy to be grainy. Yet the confection needs to be sweetened to the right degree, so tapioca, corn and rice sugars are a good fit.   

Tapioca is also used in fruit and nut bars as a binder and in frozen confections for crystallization control, again mouth feel is important here.   

More traditional sweetener suppliers have also noted the trend toward healthier confections, particularly as it applies to the sweetener used.   

“Roquette has been working to create formulations that promote overall health and wellness, not forgetting that everyone needs a treat once and a while,” says Andrea McBride, business development manager for dry polyols for Roquette America, headquartered in France.  

“Heightened awareness of the obesity and diabetes epidemic has pushed both consumers and manufacturers to evaluate what they are eating and producing, respectively,” she continues. Roquette has created SweetPearl crystalline maltitol, a bulk sugar replacement, which replaces sugar at a ratio of 1:1 in a variety of confectionery applications. It is 90% as sweet as sugar, has a low glycemic index (only 2.1 kcal/gram compared to sucrose with 4 kcal/gram) and possesses almost identical functional and organoleptic properties. It is naturally occurring in wheat and maize, improving nutritional value and intensifying flavor, and providing some soluble fiber for use in chocolate, gummies and chewy candy.   

Although the sugar-free industry had predominantly been made up of gums, mints, hard-boiled candies and chocolates, McBride notes polyols are starting to be used for their functional properties in other confections. Polyols have shelf stability, processing tolerance, hygroscopicity (or lack there of), tablet characteristics and sweetness.   

“Roquette manufactures a full line of polyols ,which can be used for bulk sugar replacement,” says McBride. They are used to replace or partially replace sucrose and other full-calorie sweeteners. Sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol and isomalt have unique properties, which make it ideal for a variety of applications, she continues. And, they are non-cariogenic, which is important to dental health.   

With the rising cost of sugar, confectionery companies are actively looking for alternative sweeteners to reduce cost, according to Tate & Lyle’s Pashen Black. The marketing communication manager for the London-based supplier says corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose and crystalline fructose are common nutritive carbohydrate sweetener substitutes.   

Crystalline fructose’s relative sweetness is 117 compared to sucrose at 100, while it exhibits “sweetness synergy” when blended with nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, Black continues. “A partial replacement of sugar with Tate & Lyle’s KRYSTAR Crystalline Fructose and STALEYEX 333 dextrose monohydrate may drive cost savings in confectionery formulas while maintaining sweetness quality of the finished product.”   

“KRYSTAR Crystalline Fructose enhances fruit, spice, chocolate, caramel and other sweet flavors in confectionery products,” she continues. The sweetener is highly soluble, has a low tendency to crystallize, has the ability to lower water activity and is humectant, providing shelf stability for cream and fruit fillings, according to Black.   

And if reducing calories is the goal, Splenda Sucralose is a zero calorie high potency sweetener, which is compatible with nutritive sweeteners and low-calorie bulking agents, she says. It is approximately 600 times sweeter than sucrose, available in micronized, granular and liquid concentrations (25 percent solids) forms. It has “excellent heat and acid stability” and is used in chewy candies, toffees, caramels, chewing gum and other confections. 

Tate & Lyle’sSTA-LITE III polydextrose andPROMITOR Soluble Corn Fiber is used to replace nutritive sweeteners in confectionery formulas, while reducing calories. They both have good digestive tolerance when used as a bulking ingredient for sugar replacement, she adds. “Soluble Corn Fiber 60S andSplenda Sucralose offer a benefit of adding fiber while delivering pleasant sweetness in reduced sugar, no sugar added and sugar-free formulations,” says Black.  “In the gum area, sugar-free is very big,” says Joseph O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing for BENEO. “Sugar-free probably dominates in the gum (category). When it comes to hard candy, the market is well developed in Europe and continues to grow in the U.S.”  That’s why at the ISM 2010, the Belgium company launched its Sweets Collection which includes BENEO’s isomalt,Palatinose, native Remy rice starch andOraftiinulin.    

There are many benefits of using isomalt, O’Neill notes. For one, it makes the confection less hydroscopic so it doesn’t pick up moisture and stick to the wrapper. It also provides stability in terms of color retention and is tooth-friendly, has a low digestibility rate and low caloric count, 2 kcal/gram.    

Isomalt is exclusively made from sugar beets. “It’s one of the few polyols made directly from sugar,” O’Neill says. “It looks like sugar and is very like sugar and very easily used. It behaves like sugar even though it’s a unique sugar replacer.”   

Because isomalt is about 50%  the sweetness of sugar, it is often used with a high intensity sweetener like stevia, he adds. “So there’s a lot of ongoing development work in this area with high intensity sweeteners.”  

 As for the other products in the Sweets Collection, O’Neill says rice starch provides a natural solution to get that bright white look that traditionally comes from using titanium dioxide. Rice starch also is used for texture.   

Palatinose is a specialty all-natural sugar that is slowly broken down by the body, which makes it suitable for diabetics, while providing a sustained balanced energy without the “sugar crash.” He says it not only has a low glycemic index, but promotes fat burning during exercise. Orafti inulin, a natural dietary fiber derived from the chicory root, is low in calories, 1.5 kcal/gram, and is used in everything from hard candy to chocolate as a partial sugar replacer. Depending on the application, some of these products can be used in combination, O’Neill says. “Our goal with BENEO is to provide solutions in the confectionery industry. As a company, we are really focused on specialty carbohydrates with a special focus on nutrition.” Indeed, the options abound for confectioners.