While a switch in sweeteners may be motivated by today’s high-fructose corn syrup controversy, “corn syrup alternatives have been used in hundreds of applications for over two decades,” said Jim Mitchell, director of R&D, Ciranda, Inc., Hudson, Wis. “Alternative syrups are being explored in most baking and snack applications as a replacement for more commonly used glucose syrups.”

There’s good scientific evidence about benefits conferred by dietary fiber and carbohydrates with low glycemic index ratings. A number of alternative syrups qualify as both, conveying a healthy image appreciated by consumers.

As an ingredient category, variety sweeteners encompass honey plus those derived from cereal grains such as barley, rice and even wheat; from tubers including tapioca and chicory; and other plant sources, notably agave. They offer a range of sweetness levels, from low to moderate and up a bit above that of sucrose.

Representing a company that sells variety syrups from numerous producers, Jason Greenfield, product manager at Batory Foods, Des Plaines, Ill., observed, “Several manufacturers state that a person [consuming foods made with these syrups] will not experience the same blood sugar spikes as one would experience with more conventional sweeteners.” He cited the slow-paced, steady delivery of component sugars from complex carbohydrates compared with the sharp, fast release of these sugars from conventional sweeteners.

Health concerns drive consumers worldwide.

“There’s no question that consumers are a key driver in demanding that manufacturers provide healthier choices in food and beverage options,” said Joe O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo, Inc., Morris Plains, N.J. “Worldwide, there’s intensity for products that help people better manage their weight, lower blood glucose levels and provide less sugar, but consumers don’t want to sacrifice taste.”

Those seeking to avoid allergens will welcome several natural sweeteners. Alyssa Turner, product specialist at Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., identified both tapioca and agave as allergen friendly.

Gluten-free status is a big driver in today’s market, but it does not extend to all variety syrups, said J.W. Hickenbottom, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J.

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