Sugar is top of mind with consumers, they still want to enjoy the foods they crave but with less sugar and without compromising on the taste, texture or quality of the product. According to HealthFocus International research, sugar is the first item consumers look for on a Nutrition Facts label (see “Navigating the World of Sweeteners”). Also, the 2020 IFIC “Food & Health Survey” shows that 74 percent of consumers are trying to limit or avoid sugars.
Snack and bakery companies can employ many different strategies to reduce sugar. “We’ve seen brands introduce smaller-sized, full-sugar portions, including minis, bites, and thins, as a way to reduce sugar and calories on packaging,” says Tim Christensen, senior food technologist, R&D bakery applications, Cargill, Minneapolis. Other companies have embraced reformulations or introduced new products with lower sugar levels. “However, not all sweeteners are equal in the eyes of the consumer,” he says.
When it comes to sugar reduction, the challenge is not only to rebuild the sweetness with a lower sugar level, but also to replace the functionality. Julia DesRochers, principal scientist, bakery, NOAM, Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, IL, advises snack and bakery formulators to take a four-stage approach when reducing or replacing sugar: “The first step is to understand the source of the sugar and where total sweetness is derived, followed by setting a sugar reduction target. It’s critical to understand the functional role of sucrose in the food system before you attempt to alter it. The third step is to maintain sweetness, which can be achieved using various sweetener solutions, such as no-calorie sweeteners, rare sugars, and other nutritive sweeteners. The fourth step is of great importance for snack and bakery manufacturers: build back functionality. You must optimize the formula to maintain other sensory attributes, such as texture, color, and appearance.”
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Tate & Lyle recently expanded its toolbox of natural sweeteners. “TASTEVA D Stevia Sweetener is a bio-converted, rare rebaudioside (Reb D), which is known to have the most sugar-like taste compared to other rebaudiosides, like Reb A. Thus, this sweetener is ideal for those wanting to achieve higher levels of sugar reduction without sacrificing taste,” notes DesRochers. This new, non-GMO sweetener can be used alone or blended with other stevia sweeteners that delivers clean sugar-like taste with little to no linger or bitterness. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) has also approved the sweetener for use as a flavor.
Tate & Lyle has also expanded the DOLCIA PRIMA Allulose line and is offering a Non-GMO Project Verified option. “DOLCIA PRIMA Allulose provides bulking and sweetness in food and beverage products while reducing calories and sugar. Specially, in bakery applications, allulose additionally offers freeze/thaw stability, builds back bulk when reducing sugar, and even enhances browning,” shares DesRochers. These ingredients have the potential to be used in a wide variety of snack and bakery products, and the company notes having seen great success in nutrition and performance bars when leveraging the benefits of these two sweeteners.
Ingredion, Westchester, IL recently acquired PureCircle and now has a full range of high-quality stevia sweeteners that can achieve a high level of sugar reduction and also be used as a flavor. The PureCircle NSF products are designed to offer benefits like enhanced sweetness quality, increased flavor intensity, modified taste, and masked bitterness.
Ingredion also recently launched VERSAFIBE 285, a soluble corn fiber that can be used as a bulk sugar replacer and source of dietary fiber. “VERSAFIBE 285 soluble corn fiber is low in calories and has minimal impact on flavor and color development. It is process-tolerant, easy to handle, and label-friendly. It is used in combination with our other bulking agents like ASTREA Allulose to achieve significant levels of sugar reduction,” states Eric Shinsato, senior product leader, technical service. These new ingredients can be used in a range of snack and bakery application, depending on the level of sweetness or sugar reduction required.
Christensen shares the results Cargill has seen in reducing sugar in snack and baked goods. “We’ve found developers can achieve modest reductions of 15 to 20 percent in cookies and 20 to 50 percent in cakes and muffins using ingredients like stevia leaf extract, erythritol, and chicory root fiber, with limited effect on overall product performance.” According to Cargill’s proprietary online research, consumers ranked stevia leaf extract as the most healthful and having the most positive perception on the label when compared with 12 of the leading low-calorie or no-calorie sweeteners.
While zero-calorie stevia leaf extract can help replace the sweet taste, it does not account for the loss of bulk or functionality. This is where the company turns to erythritol, a natural, zero-calorie bulk sweetener, or chicory root fiber. “Chicory root fiber is a useful bulking agent in reduced-sugar applications, and pairs well with stevia leaf extract and erythritol. Because it resists digestion, chicory root fiber adds bulk to a product with half the calories of fully digestible carbohydrates. In addition, chicory root fiber acts very similar to sugar in functionality. Many bulking agents result in finished products with a crisper or firmer texture, but chicory root fiber more closely mimics the texture of its full-sugar counterparts, contributing browning, crumb development, and more,” states Christensen.
International Molasses—a sister company to Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, NJ—recently expanded its portfolio of CaneRite sugarcane molasses-based sweeteners. “The product line comprises a wide-ranging light-to-dark flavor profile with reassuring label-friendliness, eliminating the need for overly processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup or other ‘red flag’ ingredients like artificial sweeteners,” says Amy Targan, president, Malt Products Corp. “Molasses is rich in antioxidants and is formulation-friendly, serving food manufacturers not only as a subtle sweetener, but a natural colorant, humectant, and shelf-life extender.” The products are available in non-GMO and organic varieties and can be used in a variety of baked goods, such as cookies, bread, bagels, dinner rolls, and tortillas.
ASR Group, West Palm Beach, FL, has introduced two new distillate products: Cane Molasses Distillate and Sugar Cane Distillate, both produced from sugarcane grown in Florida. “Sugar Cane Distillate is a plant-based FEMA GRAS certified (#4816) bitterness blocker produced through the distillation of leaves and stalks of selected sugarcane varieties,” says Tom Sanders, global applications manager. “It is a cost-efficient ingredient that effectively modulates bitterness at 0.1–0.4 percent usage. This ingredient loosely binds to the bitterness receptors in the taste buds and blocks the perception of bitterness, as it prevents binding of the bitter compounds.” This ingredient is best suited for bakery and snack applications that have a high whole-grain cereal content where the bitterness of the grain might contribute an unappealing flavor profile.
“Cane Molasses Distillate is a plant-based natural flavor and sweetness modulator produced through the distillation of Sugar Cane Molasses from our sugar mills. Due to the presence of five sweet aroma compounds, this ingredient provides a full and complex flavor with brown sugar notes for a highly perceived ‘sweet’ aroma and enhances sweetness perception up to 2 percent SE (sugar equivalency),” notes Sanders. This product can be used in confections and sweet bakery applications.
ASR Group also introduced Belizean and Mexican Raw Cane Sugars to address the growing interest for sweetening ingredients that are closer to nature. These new raw cane sugars are minimally processed, unrefined alternatives to white sugar that can be used as a 1:1 replacement and provide the same functional benefits as white sugar.
Mother Nature’s sweetener
Consumers are paying more attention to the types of sweeteners and are looking for more natural and unprocessed sweeteners, such as honey. Per capita consumption of honey has grown from 1.79 pounds per person in 2015 to 1.83 pounds per person in 2020. In fact, based on the 2020 consumer “Attitudes and Usage” study from the National Honey Board, Longmont, CO, honey ranks as Americans’ No. 1 preferred sweetener. Consumers were asked to select their favorite from among several common sweeteners, including: white sugar, brown sugar, several non-calorie sweeteners, raw sugar, monk fruit, honey, and maple syrup, and honey came out on top for the first time.
“Honey truly is Mother Nature’s sweetener, straight from the flower to the bee to the bakery. Honey may seem simple on the surface, but if you analyze it, you’ll find it’s a complex substance with more than 180 components, including all-natural minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and prebiotics, as well as a host of carbohydrates and acids that give honey its complex flavor profile,” shares Catherine Barry, director of marketing, National Honey Board. Honey is up to 50 percent sweeter than sugar, enabling snack and bakery manufacturers to reduce the overall amount of sweeteners used in a product.
Honey also contributes other functions beyond sweetness and flavor. “Honey’s fructose content and humectancy helps breads hold in moisture and naturally extends shelf life. This also reduces dryness and crumbliness of bakery foods, making for a more-acceptable finished product. The high acidity of honey (average pH 3.91) also helps inhibit mold growth,” states Barry.
More consumers are also concerned about traceability and the safety of the foods they buy. True Source Honey is an organization whose goal is to ensure honey is sourced in a transparent and traceable manner and is authentic. It is a voluntary industry program that currently has more than 600 members from around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all honey sold in North America is True Source Certified. The components of the program include documentation, testing requirements, and third-party audits. The organization will be enhancing it standards. “The True Source Certified standards previously required its packers to maintain a system to analyze honey authenticity, but had not specified exact testing methodologies. The new standards specify authenticity testing which utilizes longstanding approved methods along with cutting-edge technologies to detect sugar/syrups,” states Gordon Marks, executive director.
It will always be important to satisfy consumers’ sweet tooth, but the challenge going forward will be to do so with less sugar and more natural sweeteners.