It’s all about the taste

Taste reigns, yet a position within the natural, clean label market is increasingly important as well. This has led beverage formulators to explore the use of stevia-based sweeteners, which contain extracts of steviol glycosides sourced from leaves of the Stevia rebaudina plant. Stevia-based sweeteners are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

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, suppliers have improved plant sourcing and extraction technologies. A number of new stevia ingredients debuted at the Institute of Food Technologists’ (I.F.T.) annual meeting and food exposition held July 11-14 in Chicago.

For example, PureCircle, Chicago, showcased two new stevia ingredients optimized for either dairy applications or ready-to-drink tea, with more to come. For tea, the ingredient was designed to have a clean sweetness profile, reduced astringency and bitterness, and a sweet aftertaste that performs parity to sugar at mid-level sugar reductions, said John Martin, global director for technical development and innovation.

“The ingredients significantly outperform first-generation solutions and come from our deep understanding of steviol glycosides,” he said. “Understanding how stevia performs not only across different categories, but within specific matrices has given us insight into how to best achieve taste and caloric targets. We are learning that stevia ingredients, even within a specific matrix, can perform differently across a range of reduction levels.”

Bellingham, Wash.-based Sweet Green Fields introduced a blend of active steviol glycosides to provide an upfront sweetness profile close to sugar and a reduced bitterness and lingering profile compared with other stevia sweeteners, according to the company. The sugar-like taste and peak solubility make it useful for formulating no-sugar-added beverages without any lingering aftertaste, said Mel Jackson, vice-president of science.

Compared to other sweeteners, monk fruit extract is known for its sugar-like taste and its tendency to build slower to the sweetness.

The company also introduced a new flavor modifier that acts as a synergist with sugar, stevia extracts and monk fruit. It enhances the perception of sweetness, while reducing calories and overall sugar levels by 30% to 70%. In sensory tests, a 30%-reduced-sugar lemon and lime drink made with the flavor modifier was preferred to the full-sugar version.

A newer natural sweetener receiving notice in the ingredient marketplace comes from monk fruit, the translation for the Chinese luo han guo. This is a fruit grown in Southeast Asia that 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.

Compared to other sweeteners, monk fruit extract is known for its sugar-like taste and its tendency to build slower to the sweetness. That sweetness also tends to last longer than what one experiences with sucrose. Thus, monk fruit extract works well in systems where there are lingering flavors, for example tea beverages that have a natural bitterness. It also works synergistically with other sweeteners, in particular, stevia. Together the two may 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.

The Food and Drug Administration recognized monk fruit as Generally Recognized as Safe for use in foods and beverages in January 2010. Two ingredient forms of monk fruit are available to formulators: powdered monk fruit extract and monk fruit juice concentrate. Both products are made by crushing the fruit then infusing the crushed fruit with hot water to release its natural sweet juice.

The sweet infusion is then filtered to clarify and stabilize the monk fruit juice. The end-result is a natural fruit juice, which thanks to the sweet mogrosides, is 15 times sweeter than apple juice. The monk fruit extract has a further step to separate the sweet mogrosides from the natural fruit sugars. This product is then dried and sold in powdered form.

DSM 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.

DSM has a number of patent-pending applications relating to fermentation-based production of steviol glycosides, said Greg Kesel, regional president-Americas for DSM. At the I.F.T., the company sampled a 40%-reduced sugar 100% juice beverage. An 8-oz serving contained 60 calories and 14 grams of sugar, all inherent to the fruit juices.

The most recent sweetener to enter the marketplace for no- and low-sugar beverage formulating is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide that exists in nature. It was first identified in wheat in the 1930s and today is being produced commercially. The ingredient provides the mouthfeel of table sugar, along with about 70% of its sweetness.

At the I.F.T., Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, Ill., the first company to market an allulose ingredient in the United States, sampled a reduced-calorie root beer craft soda made with allulose, combined with its stevia sweetener and crystalline fructose. The beverage contained 50% fewer calories and 25% less sugar than traditional root beer.

Matsutani America, Itasca, Ill., introduced an allulose ingredient at the I.F.T. that the company said has proven physiological benefits.

“Not only does our allulose reduce calories in finished products, it provides physiological benefits such as helping to regulate blood sugar levels and lowering lipid accumulation in the body,” said Yutaka Miyamoto, executive vice-president. “Manufacturing companies can formulate with it to create low-calorie products for all food and beverage segments without the drawbacks of long-lasting aftertaste and synthetic or chemical perception.”

Chicory root fiber, also known as inulin or oligofructose, also may assist with sugar reduction while contributing scientifically proven health benefits. It may enhance blood sugar management, support weight reduction and improve bowel health. Chicory root fiber provides a natural sweetness while contributing fiber, according to Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J.

Enzymes may be useful tools. For example, milk-based beverages inherently contain lactose, a relatively non-sweet disaccharide. Its sweetness index is 16, with sucrose being 100. When lactose is broken down by the lactase enzyme into its constituent monosaccharides, glucose and galactose, the sweetness may increase approximately two-fold. The sweetness obtained through the process is not enough to fully replace added sugars or sweeteners but it allows for a reduction in many applications.

Invertase enzyme works similar to lactase, but on sucrose, breaking it down into the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Known as invert sugar, these monosaccharides collectively are sweeter than sucrose on its own. Depending on the beverage and the desired sweetness intensity, sucrose may be completely or partially broken down by invertase. The presence of other ingredients in the formula, such as fruit, may mask or enhance the sweetness.

“Beverage companies around the world are looking to broaden their toolkit to customize the sweet-taste profile and other characteristics of their products to their specific target group in their specific market,” Ms. Duyvesteyn said. “The challenge is up to the ingredients industry to provide manufacturers with innovative ingredients to help them meet this expanding consumer demand.”