Subtracting added sugars

by Jeff Gelski
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Take note, food formulators. Reduced sugar projects potentially may head your way soon.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed listing added sugars to the Nutrition Facts Panel of foods and beverages in the March 3 Federal Register. Such a listing may draw the attention of consumers, which in turn may have food manufacturers working to reduce or even eliminate added sugars in their products.

Fortunately, the tool box of ingredients designed to accomplish the tasks is far from empty. Synthetic high-intensity sweeteners and bulking agents may offer immediate, cost-effective ways to replace added sugars. Their naturally-sourced counterparts, though perhaps more expensive, are increasing in number and supply, which might bring down their price.

Some consumers already are aware of added sugars. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2014 Food and Health Survey, 51% of Americans said added sugars when asked what items they tried to limit or avoid entirely.

The F.D.A. proposes to define added sugars as those that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such.

“There are many grain-based foods that have added sugars, from simple products like bread where sugars aid in fermentation, enhance flavor and color to more complex products such as cakes, cookies and pastries where sugars provide sweetness, texture and visual appeal,” said Nate Yates, business director, Enliten and North American Sweetness Innovation for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill.

According to NHANES 2005-06, soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks are the sources of 35.7% of the added sugars in the U.S. population age 2 and older. Following those drinks are grain-based desserts (12.9%), fruit drinks (10.5%), dairy desserts (6.5%), candy (6.1%), ready-to-eat cereals (3.8%), sugars and honey (3.5%), tea (3.5%), yeast bread (2.1%) and all other food categories (15.4%).

Children’s cereal drew attention in a report issued May 15 by the Environmental Working Group, Washington. After researchers analyzed more than 1,500 cereals, they found children’s cereal contained an average of 40% more sugar per serving than adult cereals.

Time to reformulate

If added sugar becomes part of the Nutrition Facts Panel, it may take some time. The F.D.A.’s proposal includes various changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel besides listing added sugars. The agency will accept public comments until Aug. 1. The F.D.A. is proposing an effective date of 60 days after the publication of the final rule in the Federal Register. Companies would need to come into compliance two years after the effective date.

“Manufacturers have a host of options available to reduce or replace the amount of added sugars depending on the desired outcome,” Mr. Yates said.

To reduce calories yet maintain bulking properties, certain fibers or polyols such as maltitol may be used, he said. Also known as high-intensity sweeteners, high-potency sweeteners such as sucralose or stevia may provide an extra boost of sweetness.

“For a reduction in total sugars (as listed on the nutrition panel), other ingredients that may be used include maltodextrins or low DE glucose syrups,” he said. “The challenge is finding the right combination of ingredients that will meet the desired finished product characteristics along with other requirements that may include specific claims for labeling, calorie reduction or potential health benefits.”

Synthetic high-potency sweeteners currently are more cost-effective than the natural ones, said Alex Woo, Ph.D., chief executive officer and founder of W20 Food Innovation, Chicago. He made a case for blending sweeteners because of strengths and weaknesses in each alternative high-potency sweetener.

Sucralose is stable, he said, but it may have a lingering aftertaste. Aspartame may be the best-tasting high-potency sweetener, but it is not that stable under heat or water.

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) is stable and has a faster sweetness onset.

“You will be able to perceive sweetness from Ace-K quicker, like sugar,” said Dr. Woo, who previously worked for the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., Starbucks Coffee Co., PepsiCo, Inc. and Kraft Foods.

However, Ace-K is bitter at high concentrations. It may work better in blends, such as with sucralose or with aspartame.

A new sweetener approved

Another synthetic high-intensity sweetener had a successful month of May.

The European Commission in the Official Journal of the European Union on May 14 approved advantame for use in specific applications. In the grain-based foods category, the applications included breakfast cereals with a high fiber content of more than 15% and containing at least 20% bran, energy reduced or no added sugar; and potato-, cereal-, flour- or starch-based snacks.

The F.D.A. on May 19 said it had approved advantame for use as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods, except meat and poultry. Ajinomoto applied to the F.D.A. for advantame’s use in food in 2009. Advantame, derived from aspartame and vanillin, is an artificial flavor that has been shown to enhance flavors such as dairy, fruit, citrus and mint, according to Ajinomoto North America, Inc., Itasca, Ill. It has been shown to mask the off taste of alternative sweeteners such as Rebaudioside A, sucralose or Ace-K.

According to the Calorie Control Council, advantame is about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and 100 times sweeter than aspartame. It has 0 calories.

Australia and New Zealand previously approved advantame, according to Ajinomoto North America.

“We are all very excited about advantame,” said Brendan Naulty, senior vice-president of Ajinomoto North America. “The clean sugar-like taste means that it blends very well with sugar and other caloric sweeteners, providing food and beverage companies with an alternative that has meaningful nutritional advantages.”

Tate & Lyle, P.L.C., London, discussed high-potency/high-intensity sweeteners on May 29 when giving financial results for the 2014 fiscal year ended March 31. The company said average prices for its Splenda sucralose high-intensity sweetener should be 15% lower in the 2015 fiscal year when compared to the 2014 fiscal year.

Tate & Lyle cited data from Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, showing 6,373 new products incorporating sucralose were launched globally in calendar year 2013, which marked a 54% increase from 4,142 in 2012. For new products incorporating aspartame, 3,633 were launched in 2013, which was up 4% from 2012. New products incorporating stevia launched globally in 2013 totaled 2,860, up 56% from 2012.

Dr. Woo said he has not seen much use of natural high-potency sweeteners, including stevia and monk fruit, in grain-based foods. Companies wanting to use these sweeteners in products might want to promote them as having “no artificial sweeteners,” he said. Promoting them as “all natural” products has led to lawsuits recently.

Efforts to reduce the cost of stevia-based sweeteners and make them more effective are under way.

Cargill, Minneapolis, in March introduced a ViaTech line of stevia-based sweeteners.

“Cargill developed a proprietary taste-prediction model that can precisely predict which combination of steviol glycosides (found in stevia plants) delivers optimal taste and sweetness,” said Scott Fabro, global business development manager for Cargill. “This unique technology results in a proprietary composition of ingredients that delivers optimum taste and performance for the most challenging reduced-calorie applications.”

Calorie reductions of more than 50% may be achieved in challenging operations like carbonated soft drinks while delivering optimal taste and sweetness, said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for Cargill.

Cargill and Evolva Holding SA, Reinach, Switzerland, on May 21 said they had achieved a technical milestone in a joint development program on fermentation-based minor steviol glycosides. Cargill thus will make a $1 million milestone payment to Evolva. In 2013 the two companies entered into an agreement.

The fermentation process, which does not involve the stevia plant, is designed to lower the cost of the zero-calorie, high-intensity sweeteners. Evolva Holding makes individual components of the sweetener stevia via fermentation in yeast.

The need for a bulking agent

While high-potency/high-intensity sweeteners may add back in the sweetness lost when sugar is taken out of grain-based foods applications, the applications still need a bulking agent to replace the sugar.

Dr. Woo said one non-caloric bulk sweetener, erythritol, may be added and still allow companies to say a product is naturally sweetened. Inulin, another bulking agent, also may be listed as natural, and it adds fiber to a product.

To aid in formula development and increase speed to market for new products, Ingredion recently launched Dial-in Sweetness technology and supporting Sweetabulary lexicon.

“The technology uses sensory techniques to plot specific characteristics on a spider graph, which in turn determines how close or how far the attribute is to the target,” Mr. Yates said. “From there, fewer and more accurate adjustments can be made to the formula to achieve the desired finished product.”

Much remains to be learned about any new regulation concerning added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel, he said.

“Regardless of the regulation, sugar reduction is and will remain critical to consumers,” Mr. Yates said.
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