Fiber-based sweetening agents and bitter-blocking cocoa among rising stars in sugar alternatives
18 Jan 2023 --- Consumers are gravitating toward sweeteners they consider to be “closer to nature” from simple, recognizable sources. The levies and taxes being imposed in various markets are still having an impact, as is growing regulatory pressure.
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, key industry suppliers Cargill, ADM, Jungbunzlauer, Alland & Robert, Anderson Advanced Ingredients and Howtian detail their observations about trending new solutions, while also weighing in on conventional artificial additives losing their grip on the market.
“In the European marketplace, we’re seeing the impact of front-of-pack labeling systems like Nutri-Score. The growing prominence of these labeling schemes is pushing brands to take a more balanced approach to formulation, as they look to not only reduce sugars, but also improve their overall nutritional profile,” details Manuj Khanna, product line manager, Cargill.
Thomas Bernsmeier, technical service manager for sweeteners at Jungbunzlauer, highlights this trend on sugar reduction is further encouraged by many countries by imposing a tax on high-sugar products.
“For example, several Latin-American countries require foods with high levels of fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to be clearly labeled on their high unhealthy contents,” he notes. “Great Britain has even gone so far as to regulate the display of these products in supermarkets (HFSS program).”
Under the UK’s HFSS program, a TV ban on adverts for HFSS foods before 9 pm was initially due to come into force this month, alongside a ban on “buy one get one free” deals on junk food. Eliciting pushback from health bodies, the policy was initially delayed for a year but has now been pushed back by further 12 months. It will come into force in January 2025.
End of artificials?
In particular, artificial high-intensity sweeteners – such as saccharin and aspartame – are experiencing a decline in demand, and this in turn opens the door to more natural alternatives like stevia.
However, some artificial sweeteners remain popular in more price-sensitive markets, where cost is an overriding concern for consumers. “This is especially the case with soft drinks being targeted by sugar taxes, making beverages utilizing cheap artificial sweeteners more compelling alternatives,” explains Tom Fuzer, vice president of market strategy at global stevia supplier Howtian.
“We still see some growth for sucralose in Asia, for example. Innova Market Insights reports this is the region with the highest number of low sugar and reduced sugar product launches, with many still using artificial sweeteners.”
In absolute terms, the biggest growth among sweeteners is still coming from natural stevia, he highlights. “In more mature sugar substitute markets like Europe and North America, the usage is clearly shifting towards natural alternatives with stevia being the popular choice. In countries where they’re approved, other alternatives such as monk-fruit and allulose are showing signs of growing adoption.”
Fiber in place of sugar
Most formulators attempt to achieve sugar reduction by replacing sugar content with polyols (sugar alcohols) and/or dietary fiber. Unfortunately, there have been cases where polyols and most dietary fiber sources have been tied to gas, bloating and other gastrointestinal distress issues.
“[Consumers] don’t want to have to give up the frequency of enjoying their favorite foods because of digestive issues. FiberSMART takes that concern off the table,” says John Jarmul, vice president of marketing for Anderson Advanced Ingredients.
Anderson Advanced Ingredients worked with Murdoch University’s Centre for Molecular Medicine + Innovative Therapeutics in Australia to verify the anecdotal evidence that its ingredient FiberSMART was highly tolerable as a sugar replacement.
“Perhaps the most compelling feature of FiberSMART is the tapioca starch starting material,” Jarmul highlights. “Tapioca starch comes from the roots of the cassava plant, one of the most important and sustainable plants on the planet. Grown in tropical climates throughout the world from Southeast Asia to South America to Africa, tapioca is a preferred plant source of consumers worldwide.”
€38 million (US$41 million) investment in its plant in Wroclaw, Poland, the company now offers Cargill soluble fiber, a label-friendly ingredient obtained from European-sourced corn and wheat.Cargill developed its own range of soluble fibers, specifically designed to support sugar reduction. The result of a
“[Cargill soluble fiber] enables a minimum of 30% sugar reduction versus a standard recipe, plus fiber enrichment, which helps our customers improve the nutritional profile of a wide range of food applications such as confectionery, bakery, fillings, cereals, ice cream, dairy, beverages and more,” details Khanna.
“For example, in a gummy bear, it is possible to replace a low amount of sugar with soluble fiber, and thereby improve the Nutri-Score from a D to a C rating,” he notes.
“According to the European Food Safety Authority opinion on dietary intake of fiber, most consumers are falling well short of the recommended fiber intake of minimum 25 g per day, which is why fiber enrichment has never been more on trend.”
While cocoa powder doesn’t contain sugar, Cargill discovered it could enable sugar reduction in finished applications. Cocoa powder is an ingredient that brings bitterness to the flavor of the final application and sugar is used to offset that bitterness. The company’s R&D team set out to develop a cocoa powder with a sensory profile that would allow customers to take out a significant amount of the sugar from their recipe.
“Developed specifically for chocolate beverages, Sweety cocoa powders enable 30% sugar reduction. They are low in bitterness, with a strong, well-balanced chocolaty flavor and a sweet perception,” says Ellie Nikolova, commercial marketing manager, Cargill.
“As a result, less sugar is needed in the final application, enabling sugar reduction without additional sweeteners or artificial ingredients. Equally important, sensory testing with both adults and children affirm Sweety’s chocolaty flavor is a hit with all ages.”
To demonstrate the possibilities, the company developed a version of one of its best-selling milk chocolates, using 30% less sugar, engaging consumers to evaluate the result.
“In blind taste tests, our sugar-reduced and full-sugar chocolate options both received high likability scores (81% and 80%, respectively),” notes Nikolova. “When the differences in sugar content were revealed, the purchase intent scores for our sugar-reduced chocolate exceeded those of the full-sugar option by 8 percentage points.”
Agave overtakes sucralose
ADM is showcasing its SweetRight agave, which it claims has a sweetening potency 30% higher than conventional sucrose, enabling formulators to use less of the solution for reduced sugar content and calories in an application.
“Additionally, SweetRight agave is gluten-free, vegan-friendly, as well as certified organic, kosher, halal and non-GMO. Our research shows that 86% of consumers are aware of agave, and nearly 50% of consumers find agave appealing,” says Sarah Diedrich, marketing director of global sweetening and texturizing, ADM.
“Supporting an array of product categories, from beverages to snacks, baked goods, dairy, frozen treats, sauces, prepared meals, confectionery and more, our SweetRight agave has exceptional formulation benefits and flexibility. With binding and browning properties, and solubility, moisture retention and humectancy, SweetRight agave enables ease of use in a multitude of formulations,” she details.
“Coming in both liquid and powder formats, as well as light and dark variations, our agave can provide both neutral sensory profiles, as well as complex characteristics, providing key optionality to manufacturers.”
Sweet and gut healthy
Jungbunzlauer is one of the first manufacturers of erythritol from bio-fermentation – with its brand Erylite – which has grown in popularity in clean label formulations. Over the years, other blends have been added to the company’s portfolio, combining the ingredient with natural stevia or Erylite Bronze, a product that offers the same taste experience as brown cane sugar.
“Erythritol is approximately 60% as sweet as sugar. Unlike other sugar alcohols, it has a high digestive tolerance of around 0.8 g/kg body weight and low hygroscopicity. Thanks to this metabolic profile, it is non-glycaemic and non-insulinaemic,” explains Bernsmeier.
Acacia gum is another gut health-focused natural solution increasingly used in the sugar reduction space, addressing the many challenges induced by sugar reduction, in particular the compensation of the loss of mouthfeel, texture and stability. In addition, it is a natural and safe additive, source of prebiotics and soluble dietary fibers, making it ideal for “gut friendly” developments.
“Finding natural sweetening alternatives and compensating loss of stability and texture are some of the challenges faced by food companies,” says Dr. Isabelle Jaouen, R&D director at Alland & Robert.
“Thanks to acacia gum, the rheology of sugar-reduced products will be improved. Acacia gum is also known to bring stability factors by reducing the water activity, which means overall a better preservation. Additionally, it improves the softness and mouthfeel thanks to an increase of the water retention.”
Finally, Bernsmeier notes that acacia gum can be used in combination with sweeteners. “For example, the loss of creaminess and bitterness that occurs in sugar-free food can be compensated by a mix of polyols such as sucralose and acacia gum. Or it can help with the addition of isomalt. Acacia gum will have a masking effect on the aftertastes sometimes generated by sweeteners and act as a bulking agent.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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