Variety syrups wield considerable clout in helping food marketers swing consumer preferences their way.

“Marketing is probably the biggest reason that these alternative syrups have gained popularity,” said Jason Greenfield, product manager, Batory Foods, Des Plaines, Ill.

This ingredient category encompasses choices that allow label claims of organic, all-natural, gluten-free, non-G.M.O. and so forth.

“These syrups are gaining popularity in applications where being able to make these claims are important to the producer,” he observed.

Alternative syrups convey a natural image, or as explained by Jim Morano, Ph.D., principal scientist, Suzanne’s Specialties, New Brunswick, N.J.: “The real value of natural sweeteners are that they set the product apart as more healthy. They give the product the natural image. They put puts an asterisk on the product.”

Today, many health-and-wellness formulators use specialty syrups to replace corn syrup and make their formulations more label friendly. Agave, for example, “stands the test of label readers while other sweeteners come under intense scrutiny,” said Alyssa Turner, product specialist, Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “This on-trend angle makes agave the perfect choice for marketers and product developers searching for a naturally derived, easy-to-use sweetness solution.”

Just about any cereal grain or tuber that contains a lot of starch may be made into a syrup if properly processed. When barley is malted, for example, the enzymes naturally present will convert some of its starches into sugars. When taken further, that process yields sweet viscous syrups. It’s the same approach used with cereal grains, tubers and other starchy plant materials. Depending on their source, such syrups differ in degree of sweetness and may also carry over a bit of color and/or flavor, especially those made from malted cereal grains.

Viewed in terms of old and new, there’s honey, the sweet syrup favored by bakers since antiquity, and malt, a sweetener discovered by the brewers in ancient days. There’s also inulin, a relatively new although far less sweet ingredient with the prebiotic characteristics that make it a dietary fiber of interest to the health-and-wellness market — modern indeed.

Of course, these variety syrups are higher in cost than conventional sugars, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, so their applications tend to be in high-end, high-value finished products.

“Price is usually more than the corn sweeteners,” said J.W. Hickenbottom, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J.

They fit the direction of the market.

“The baking trend is back-to-nature, which means a return to ‘natural’ with no artificial flavors, colors or processing,” explained Judie Giebel, technical services representative, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wis. “This is where an alternate sweetener like tapioca syrup has a perfect fit.”

Tapioca syrup is made from a natural starch base and naturally processed to convert the starch into sugars.

Some lend themselves to consumer avoidance of gluten and genetically modified (G.M.O.) foods. Ms. Giebel observed that tapioca and white sorghum syrups answer both those concerns.

“Alternative syrups are also natural and easy to formulate with, making them an increasingly popular choice for natural food manufacturers,” she noted.

These syrups also simplify package labels because they eliminate sugar and corn syrup from ingredient listings, Ms. Giebel said.

Another market mover is demand from consumers seeking organic foods. Many variety syrups are offered in certified-organic forms, as defined by the National Organic Program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s worth noting that all certified-organic ingredients are also non-G.M.O.

The so-called ancient grains and heritage foods, such as cassava root, have not been altered by biotechnology.

“Specifically with tapioca syrup, the non-G.M.O. status is appealing to the consumer,” said Jim Mitchell, director of R&D, Ciranda, Inc., Hudson, Wis.

Mr. Hickenbottom added, “Malt from barley is not gluten-free but is G.M.O.-free.”

Editor’s note: Read more about variety syrups in May Baking & Snack’s “Sweet Solutions” report.