Rice and agave syrups earned a prominent role in granola, sports and nutrition bars right from the start of the category, while malt syrups long have been used in bread and roll products. Development of syrups derived from other grains and tubers opened the door to using them in many more baking and snack products.

“Alternative syrups used to be reserved for beverages, but now they’re being used in cereals, cakes, bars, breads and confectionary,” said Judie Giebel, technical services representative for Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wis. “Applications are almost limitless. Anywhere corn syrup is used, an alternate sweetener can be used.”

Bars, muffins, cookies, cakes and even ready-to-eat cereals now benefit from the sweetening power of alternative syrups.

“Based on the different characteristics of each syrup, there can be flavor and color enhancements, different levels of sweetness, some binding capabilities and so on,” said Jason Greenfield, product manager, Batory Foods, Des Plaines, Ill.

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.

Take the example of malt.

“Different malts — liquid, dry, diastatic or nondiastatic — contribute flavor, color and sweetness to bagels, pretzels, crackers, bread, rolls and other products,” Mr. Hickenbottom said.

Diastatic malts retain their natural amylase enzymes and dough-conditioning activity, but those enzymes are deactivated to create nondiastatic malt, which functions primarily as a flavor and color additive.

“When malt is used in combination with the other sweeteners, more flavor is gained in the baked goods, including more crust color,” he added.

These uses demonstrate an important truth, said Jim Morano, Ph.D., principal scientist at Suzanne’s Specialties, New Brunswick, N.J.

“Applications for natural syrups are not so much new as they are growing among existing categories,” he said. “People are learning how to take an established formula using refined sugar and convert it to natural sweeteners by picking an appropriate blend of such sweeteners.

“The best advice is to step back and look at the composition of the refined sugar now used. You can achieve the same sugar profile with a combination of natural sweeteners.”

In baked goods normally calling for corn sweeteners, “rice and/or tapioca syrups can be used interchangeably on a pound-for-pound basis, provided the dextrose equivalent (DE) is equal. No corn on the label seems to be the main reason for their inclusion,” said J.W. Hickenbottom, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J.

Dr. Morano confirmed this substitution.

“If you match the DE and the sugar profile, you will match the performance,” he said, and recommended that the sugar profile be achieved through a combining various natural syrups.

Sweeteners derived from cereal grain starches mirror the styles produced from corn starch because all starch molecules consist of chained dextrose units. What makes one syrup natural and another not is the method of production.

“If you start with brown rice, you have access to all its natural components — starch, bran and protein,” Dr. Morano explained. “If you start with corn, you refine it first, extracting the starch and removing the bran and oils. You hydrolyze both types of starch with enzymes to create the syrups. At the same DE, the carbohydrate profile will be the same, but the brown rice syrup will be considered natural.”

Agave is different. Its base component is a fructose polymer, inulin, and the syrup is 85% fructose on a dry solids basis.

“The same is true of chicory and Jerusalem artichoke,” Dr. Morano said. “But most people want the inulin from chicory because it is a soluble dietary fiber, and refining it to chicory syrup would be taking a step backward and down the value scale.”

The high fructose content of agave means that it is sweeter than other syrups, and “it doesn’t reduce bulk like a non-nutritive, high-potency sweetener,” observed Alyssa Turner, product specialist, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Agave can be used similarly or in tandem with corn-derived syrups and, in formulation, can provide superior ease of use compared with its high-potency counterparts in the natural space.”

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