Techniques making sweeteners more cost-effective

by Jeff Gelski
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Sweeteners, cookies
Astraea allulose, which is 0.2 calories per gram and 70% as sweet as sucrose, browns well in bakery applications like chocolate chip cookies.
 

KANSAS CITY — Sweeteners come with benefits but supply issues as well. Research and development is taking on the supply problems, making the sweeteners — allulose along with certain steviol glycosides — more likely to be used on a commercial scale.

Allulose is 70% as sweet as sucrose while having 0.2 calories per gram, but, known as a “rare sugar,” it’s not found in large quantities in nature. Enzyme technology is increasing supply of allulose, improving its cost-effectiveness as a bulk sweetener.

Fermentation processes are increasing the levels of sweeter-tasting steviol glycosides, including Rebaudioside D and Rebaudioside M, in stevia leaves and baker’s yeast, which may drive down the price of the high-intensity sweeteners.

Allulose, also scientifically referred to as “D-psicose,” is a monosaccharide and a rare sugar, one of about 50 that exist in nature, according to Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. Ltd., based in Japan.

The definition of “rare sugar” may vary.

“Obviously it’s something that is not one of the major sugars found in nature, and it’s a matter of opinion where you draw the line between what is and what isn’t a rare sugar,” said John C. Fry, Ph.D., owner of Connect Consulting, which is based in Horsham, United Kingdom, and provides consulting services for low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners.

He sees promise for allulose.

“It’s very low calorie,” Dr. Fry said. “Not all the rare sugars are. Potentially, it’s a very interesting alternative sweetener.”

Matsutani now offers allulose on a commercial scale. The company, in partnership with Kagawa University in Japan, developed Astraea brand allulose through the enzymatic isomerization of fructose via proprietary enzyme technology.

“Astraea browns wonderfully in bakery applications and doesn’t affect any of the cultures in dairy products,” said Koji Sasaki, manager of snacks and baked goods R.&D. for Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. “Manufacturing companies can formulate with Astraea to create low-calorie products for all bakery food segments without the drawbacks of long-lasting aftertaste and synthetic or chemical perception.”

Astraea may be used as a binder for nutrition bars and coatings for cereal.

“Its replacement rate (for sucrose) can be as high as 100%, but its influence of browning must be well-coordinated during development,” he said.

London-based Tate & Lyle, P.L.C. also offers an allulose sweetener under the Dolcia Prima brand names.

“Allulose works very well in baked goods applications such as rolls, cakes, pies, pastries, cookies and frostings because it tastes and functions very similar to sugar,” said Sarah Scholl, Ph.D., food scientist and bakery team leader for Tate & Lyle and based in Hoffman Estates, Ill. “It provides the same structure and texture of sucrose, as well as some improvements in the shelf life or humectancy over time.

“For example, sensory data shows that after three months of storage at room temperature, bars made with allulose had much better texture acceptability compared to a bar made with caloric sugars. Allulose also works very well in achieving a caramel flavor or other warm notes, like that found in cookies and cakes.”

Another version of the ingredient, Dolcia Prima crystalline allulose, has the same benefits as Dolcia Prima allulose syrup and opens up new categories and applications such as tabletop sweeteners, dry beverage and meal replacement mixes, fat-based creams, and chocolate confectionery, she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 said it had “no questions” about the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status of allulose. Now allulose suppliers are promoting the sweetener to the food industry.

The awareness level of allulose is increasing globally through conferences and seminars, and more companies are checking out the sweetener, Mr. Sasaki said.

Tate & Lyle since 2014 has communicated with hundreds of health professionals and given them ways to educate their patients and clients about allulose, Dr. Scholl said.

“We are working closely with our customers and health professionals to assist them in proactively educating consumers on reading labels that include allulose,” she said. “We are encouraging our customers to proactively add information to their labels, showing that allulose has negligible calories and does not raise blood glucose.”

Under current U.S. regulations, the use of allulose may lead to claims about sucrose or calorie reduction but not sugar reduction, Mr. Sasaki said. Astraea allulose is considered an added sugar even though it provides 0.2 calories per gram compared to sucrose at 4 calories per gram.

“Many countries’ authorities are in discussion with academia and food industries to improve labeling,” he said.

Masaaki Tokuda, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Kagawa University, led the development of Astraea allulose. Dr. Tokuda and Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. are working with other rare sugars, but developments may take a few years, Mr. Sasaki said.

“However, we are always looking for and welcome any potential customers who are willing to collaborate,” Mr. Sasaki said.

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