Clean alternatives help bakers reduce sugar

by Donna Berry
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The proposed added sugars line to the Nutrition Facts Panel looks more like a reality than a discussion item. This transformation occurred at the end of July when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an update to its proposal to include a percent Daily Value for added sugars.

“FDA has a responsibility to give consumers the information they need to make informed dietary decisions for themselves and their families,” said Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, College Park, MD. “For the past decade, consumers have been advised to reduce their intake of added sugars, and the proposed percent Daily Value for added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label is intended to help consumers follow that advice.”

The percent Daily Value would be based on the recommendation that the daily intake of calories from added sugars not exceed 10% of total calories. This comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has repeatedly stated that adults and children should reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake.

“Free sugars” refers to monosaccharides, such as glucose and fructose, and disaccharides such as sucrose (table sugar), added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. It also includes sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, but not those inherent to fresh fruits and vegetables or milk.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” said Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

Interestingly, in new guidelines issued in March 2015, WHO recommended that a reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 g per day would provide additional health benefits.

Reducing sugar content

Even if the proposed Nutrition Facts changes do not become law, today’s consumers are still taking note of the sugar content of foods, in particular, baked goods. According to a 2015 study from Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, 52% of US consumers said they pay attention to sugar when purchasing a bakery product, and its presence influences purchase decisions.

That’s because for many consumers, it’s impossible to stop after one or two cookies. To put this into perspective, one Keebler Chips Deluxe cookie contains 5 g sugar. By eating five cookies, a person has already consumed half the recommended amount of sugar for the day. Thus, lowering the caloric sweetener content of all foods efforts to appeal to today’s health-and-wellness-seeking consumer. Bakers are no exception.

“These proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel will increase scrutiny of added sugars to all baked goods, but particularly those that historically are higher in sugar,” said Jody Mattsen, senior food technologist, Cargill, Plymouth, MN.

This higher scrutiny means bakers will have even more reason for reducing sugar. However, that process can be complicated, and in some products more than others.

“In general, it is easiest to replace sugar in chemically leavened baked goods because sugar is vital to the fermentation that takes place in yeast-leavened baked items,” said Sarah Scholl, food scientist, Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, IL.

In most baked goods, sugar supplies everything from bulk and structure to browning and moisture management, in addition to desirable sweetness.

“The challenge is that trimming sugar isn’t as simple as substituting an alternative sweetener and calling it a day,” said Kati Ledbetter, technical sales manager, ADM/Matsutani LLC, Decatur, IL. “While the latest generation of high-intensity options does a great job of replicating sugar’s sweet taste, many fall short when it comes to performing the essential functions sugar takes on behind the scenes.”

Today’s sweetener alternatives aim at reducing sugar on the label in a clean, label-friendly way. Added nutritional benefits come as a bonus.

Value-added alternatives

It’s critical that sweetener alternatives reduce the amount of sugar in finished products; it’s also important that they deliver more than just sugar reduction. Today’s options are more label-friendly and can offer added nutritional benefits.

“Since FDA seems to be moving toward requiring disclosure of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts, it would be hard to overstate the importance of reducing conventional sugars in baked goods,” said John Kimber, COO, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, Nashville, NC. “Although alternative sweeteners won’t solve all of the category’s woes, reducing the use of added sugars will be a necessary step toward improving consumer attitudes about these products and making baked product labels friendlier.”

Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients offers ingredient solutions that can not only reduce total added sugars but at the same time also improve the nutrition profile of baked goods. Sweet potato juice concentrate, as well as its dehydrated granules and flour forms, can serve multiple functions in a formulation and offers a naturally sweet profile to bakers.

Sweet potatoes are popular with consumers because they are loaded with beta carotene and other essential nutrients. They are generally viewed as an extremely healthy vegetable option, according to Mr. Kimber.

“Consumers who have concerns about sweetener content are more likely to be focused on products with greater perceived health benefits, such as bars or muffins,” he said. “At the same time, more indulgent applications, which have in recent years suffered from negative health perceptions, could see a revival as the industry improves their perception through alternative sweetening and other means.” The company has created bars and muffins using the sweet potato juice concentrate as a sweetener, but Mr. Kimber said many applications could benefit from the clean-label sweetener’s warm flavor profile.

Indeed, the applications with the most action in lowering caloric sweetener content are sweet baked goods. “Cookies, muffins and sweet baked breads are our sweet spot,” said Thom King, president, Steviva Ingredients, Portland, OR. “One of our sweetener systems can provide up to a 75% clean-label sugar reduction in baked goods while maintaining the functionality bakers require for browning and yeast activation. This unique sweetening system uses non-genetically modified crystalline fructose, stevia and fructooligosaccharides.”

The fructooligosaccharides function as a prebiotic, feeding friendly gut microflora. It’s a sweetener with benefits. This is just one example of the company’s line of sweetening systems naturally derived and positioned as clean-label alternatives to traditional caloric sweeteners.

Chicory root fiber powder is another clean-label sweetener alternative offering nutritional and functional benefits. Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ, said the company’s chicory root fiber powder is 55% as sweet as sugar and can work with other sweeteners to mask off flavors.  “It has half the calories per gram, compared with sugar, and provides scientifically proven health benefits including blood sugar management, weight reduction and improved bowel health,” he said.

In replacing sugar’s functionality in formulas, soluble corn fiber ingredients are another option. “Not only does soluble corn fiber deliver many of sugar’s critical baking functionalities, but it has also been shown to improve product qualities such as texture, taste and shelf life, all while cutting sugar’s calories and boosting fiber,” Ms. Ledbetter said. There’s a version with honey-like sweetness but with approximately half of honey’s calories. Then there’s a highly concentrated variety that can stand in for sugar’s bulk while only contributing 1.6 Cal per g.

“A liquid version not only replaces sugar, but it also adds humectancy to bakery formulations, improving texture and shelf life,” Ms. Ledbetter said. At 75% soluble fiber on a dry-weight basis, it can also turn a sweet treat into a substantial source of fiber, a nutrient of concern in the American diet.

All-natural blending

Many of the first-generation stevia-based sweeteners from just five years ago were known to have bitter metallic and licorice-like aftertastes, some more pronounced than others based on their steviol glycoside composition. Since then, suppliers have improved plant sourcing and extraction technologies.

Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, IL, explained that as a growing number of consumers shun products made with artificial sweeteners, bakers are finding that stevia ingredients can sweeten baked goods as well. “Stevia sweeteners work well in applications when the primary function of the sweetener is taste,” he said. “Because of the flour, fat, fruit or spices in sweet baked goods, stevia can be used to enhance sweetness with less risk of having the off flavors associated with stevia.”

A number of new stevia ingredients debuted at the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) annual meeting and food exposition, held this past July in Chicago.

Sweet Green Fields, Bellingham, WA, introduced a proprietary blend of steviol glycosides to provide a sweetness profile extremely close to sugar and a significantly reduced bitterness and lingering profile, according to Mel Jackson, chief science officer. “Like all of our stevia ingredients, this product works well in a myriad of applications, including all types of baked goods,” he said.

DSM Food Specialties, Heerlen, The Netherlands, is one of the most recent ingredient companies to enter the stevia sweetener sector; however, unlike others that source steviol glycosides from actual stevia plant leaves, DSM uses fermentation. Compositionally, it’s the same as plant-derived stevia sweetener and is declared as such on ingredient statements.

“Producing steviol glycosides via fermentation has several advantages, including the fact that it can be produced anywhere in the world very efficiently,” said Greg Kesel, regional president, Americas. “The process uses fewer raw materials, requires less arable land and consumes less water. It’s a more sustainable, efficient and cost-effective process to meet market growth.”

In many applications, stevia works best as part of a sweetener system. “We offer two different baking blends that combine either sugar or brown sugar with stevia leaf extract, and erythritol, to replace the regular sugar and brown sugar in a variety of baked goods,” Ms. Mattsen said. “Actual usage rate depends on the application, but in most baked goods, you can typically achieve at least a 25% reduction in sugar.”

Understanding how stevia works best in a blend and pairing it with other sweetener alternatives like monk fruit can address challenges such as off flavors that are often associated with stevia. Steviva Ingredients uses its high-intensity sweetener portfolio of stevia, monk fruit and erythritol to meet those challenges.

“Our stevia products are optimized with proprietary combinations of steviol glycosides to reduce bitterness while our monk fruit extracts are optimized with proprietary combinations of mogrosides and glycosides to reduce aftertaste,” Mr. King said. “Each of our sweetening systems functions differently depending on the requirement of the baker, and all are designed with clean-label sugar reductions in mind.”

Monk fruit ingredients are extracted from the same-named fruit grown in Southeast Asia; the ingredient contains naturally occurring sweet compounds known as mogrosides. Depending on the purification level and the application, these mogrosides are 150 to 400 times sweeter than sugar.

Monk Fruit Corp.’s monk fruit extract natural sweetener, sold by Tate & Lyle, is 200 times sweeter than sugar, according to David Thorrold, general manager of sales and marketing for the Chicago-based company. The company also offers it in fruit juice concentrate form 20 times sweeter than apple juice concentrate.

Compared with other sweeteners, monk fruit extract is known for its sugar-like taste and its tendency to build slower to the sweetness. It also works synergistically with other sweeteners, in particular, stevia. Together, the two can deliver a balanced sweetness profile in most applications. Further, by using monk fruit extract, less stevia is needed for the same sweetness level. The same is true when monk fruit extract is used with sucrose and other caloric sweeteners.

Sweetener breakthroughs

The most recent sweetener to enter the marketplace is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide. It is described by some scientists as a rare sugar because it is found in nature but in such small quantities that until now has made simple extraction and purification commercially unviable.

“Newly commercialized enzymatic approaches now allow the commercial viability of this generally recognized as safe ingredient,” said Steven Young, North American technical advisor to Matsutani America Inc., Itasca, IL.

While allulose is not fermentable, which must be  considered with yeast-leavened products, it does offer some of the functional properties of sugar.

“Allulose is a low-calorie sugar with bulking properties similar to sucrose,” said Tetsuo Iida, director of rare sugar R&D at Matsutani, Itami, Japan. “Because it is a monosaccharide, allulose can contribute to non-enzymatic browning, which makes it a very attractive alternative sweetener for baked goods.”  

These properties make allulose a viable option when reducing sugar without affecting flavor or texture. “We are currently working with a large baked goods producer to decrease calories and sugars in mini brownie bites, with the goal for a serving to be under 200 Cal,” said Ms. Scholl of Tate & Lyle. “We’ve found that allulose works well in these types of calorie-reduction formulations because it can cut calories without sacrificing taste or texture.

“Since allulose is 70% as sweet as sucrose, sometimes a manufacturer may need to bump up the sweetness perception, which can be readily accomplished through synergies with high-potency sweeteners, in particular stevia or monk fruit,” she continued.

Allulose has also been shown, when properly formulated into a recipe, to manage moisture migration. “It can interfere with classical staling — either retrogradation in yeast-raised baked goods or loss of moisture in chemically leavened goods — and, ultimately, aid in delivery of desirable eating quality throughout the entire intended shelf life of the baked good,” Mr. Young said. “This includes baked goods and doughs that might be frozen for distribution.”

When it comes to the proposed added sugars line on the Nutrition Facts Panel, allulose will be the problem child. It is sugar but is not digested like sugar. “Nutrition science is telling us ingredients like allulose may need to find another classification,” Mr. Young said.

As science progresses in the naturally derived alternative sweetener segment, there will likely be more exceptions to the rule. These exceptions will help bakers improve the nutrition profile of their products while also providing the same great taste and functionality consumers expect.

“If we’re going to succeed as an industry in developing better-for-you baked goods, it is necessary to provide innovative ingredient solutions,” Ms. Scholl concluded.

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