As attractive as variety sweeteners are to consumers, they perform beneficially for bakers and snack manufacturers, too. They sweeten, flavor and color products, enhancing the aroma of the finished item and extending its freshness.

“Alternate syrups often delay staling, adding a day or two to shelf life,” said Judie Giebel, technical services representative, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wis. “Texture differences from the standard liquid sugar or granulated sugar may be advantageous for some applications, for example, softer and moister cakes.”

The category of variety sweeteners encompasses 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.

“These syrups also have varying levels of sweetness, so they can be adapted to different applications,” said Jason Greenfield, product manager, Batory Foods, Des Plaines, Ill. “Depending on the product, they can range from being neutral in flavor to adding flavor.”

Honey and agave occupy the sweet end of the spectrum, said J.W. Hickenbottom, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J. “Both are much sweeter than the corn, rice and tapioca syrups, and in baked goods, agave and honey provide the extra sweetness and even flavor.”

The sugar content of variety syrups makes them fermentable and hygroscopic. Mr. Hickenbottom described rice and tapioca syrups as clear to tan in color. They offer equal fermentability for yeast-raised foods, and they have good binding properties.

“Energy bars seem to be switching from corn [syrups] to rice and tapioca,” he said. “Both syrups contribute viscosity for binding as well as sweetness and humectancy.”

Let’s face it, syrups are sticky and thick, some more than others.

“Tapioca syrup tends to be slightly less viscous than corn syrup at the same dextrose equivalent (DE) level, which may improve ease of handling for the user,” said Jim Mitchell, director of R&D, Ciranda, Inc., Hudson, Wis. “There are also advantages in some of the lower-conversion syrups when compared with corn-based on the residual properties of the starch. For example, a low-DE tapioca or rice syrup tends to form a tack-free film better than corn syrup.”

They may be applied by brush to the crust of baked foods to create a high-gloss, tack-free glaze.

What makes variety syrups so interesting? While good at sweetening baked foods and snacks, they improve shelf life as well as product aroma and appearance. Capable of making a marketable difference, they bring added value to products, making them well worth their extra cost.

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