The heat and the beat might have been high at the 2012 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo held at the end of June in Las Vegas, NV, but there was a comforting, underlying tone of balance on the show floor. Compared with previous years, suppliers did not go extreme on any single trend. Rather, the theme was one more of moderation and deliciousness.

And that’s just what product developers require when working on lower-calorie baked foods and snacks.

Many suppliers used their knowledge to combine ingredient technologies to create prototypes that delivered value in terms of nutrition and at the same time eliminated some unnecessary calories. It’s no wonder since 60% of American adults said they were trying to balance calories to manage their weight — a key finding of the 2012 Food and Health Survey about consumer attitudes toward food, nutrition and health taken in April by the International Food Information Council Foundation.

The study also showed that calorie content is the No. 1 labeling consideration when deciding to purchase packaged foods, with 49% of respondents indicating that they are trying to limit caloric intake. But at the final moment at checkout, calorie content goes on the back burner. Taste reigns supreme. An impressive 87% of respondents indicated that taste had the greatest impact on final purchase decision. This was followed by price (73%) and then healthfulness (61%).

To meet the needs of consumers trying to manage caloric intake while still enjoying their food, today’s bakers are taking a systems approach to reducing calories.

Finding replacements

Many baked foods simply contain too much fat and/or sugar, depending on the product. Therefore, reducing either or both, even if just by 25%, and replacing them with lower- or non-caloric ingredients can make an impact on the finished product’s calorie content.

“Calories are always the top thing people say they are looking at when comparing labels,” said Barbara Davis, vice-president, HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, FL. “During some recent focus groups, I can’t tell you the number of times there were little quarrels among participants about relatively small caloric differences. There’s no doubt, when consumers compare labels, just a 20-Cal difference between brands can make or break a sale.”

Such narrow differences can really test formulators, according to Patrick O’Brien, marketing manager, bakery, Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, IL. “To reduce calories, bakery manufacturers will usually replace sugar and fat in product formulations,” he said. “However, in doing so, they encounter challenges with maintaining taste, texture and product quality. It is critical that formulators include ingredients that build back body and mouthfeel to deliver the taste and texture preferences consumers expect from traditional products.”

Out with caloric sweeteners

With some sweet goods, it is possible to reduce the amount of caloric sweeteners without adding any sweetness back because the product had already peaked in its sweet taste threshold. Sometimes, all that sugar was part of the formula for functional reasons other than sweetness.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, WI, received an IFT 2012 Food Expo Innovation Award for its binding system that reduces sugar. It uses a milk protein concentrate to cut sugar usage up to 50% in many food applications such as baked- and chewy-type granola bars, cereal clusters and other snack products. In reduced-sugar applications, the ingredient binds water and maintains a sticky matrix. The clean-label ingredient contributes protein to the formulation and enables addition of other desirable nutrients such as fiber.

Another example comes from TIC Gums, Inc., White Marsh, MD, which introduced a hydrocolloid blend that helps reduce or eliminate the use of sugars for binding, film forming, stability, bonding and cling in granola, cereal and energy bars.

“This blend of hydrocolloids can reduce the amount of sugar ingredients used in the binding syrup that holds all of the particulates together in these applications, without increased drying times,” said Karen Silagyi, food scientist at TIC Gums. “Typical usage levels range from 5 to 20% of the binding syrup, depending on the level of sugar reduction.”

Although the hydrocolloid system contains approximately 4 Cal per g, it is not a direct replacement for sugar. Less is used to achieve the desired functionality.

“With higher sugar reductions, sweetness can be replaced with high-intensity sweeteners. But what is not easy to replace are the texture and bonding qualities that sugar provides to shape and hold such crunchy products together,” said Ms. Silagyi. “We successfully used the common language of the texture lexicon and the texture attribution and mapping process to plot the qualities of fully sugared crunchy granola bars in order to employ hydrocolloids to reduce sugar.”

Indeed, many high-intensity sweetening options help bakers reduce sugar and thus cut calories. “Our stevia-based sweetener can be incorporated at low use levels because it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose and imparts sweetness in all-natural, reduced-calorie or reduced/no-sugar bakery products,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Within the baking and snack categories, stevia sweeteners work synergistically with sugar-free bulk sweeteners such as erythritol, maltitol syrups and other polyol combinations.”

Polyols provide another tool for rejiggering calories, explained by Carl Jaundoo, PhD, associate program coordinator, Roquette America, Inc., Keokuk, IA. “At 2.1 Cal per g, maltitol can replace all or any desired level of sugar in baked foods without compromising texture or taste,” he said. “It is the closest sugar replacer from a chemical and physical consideration when it comes to baked foods applications because it provides sweetness and bulk.”

At IFT, Sensus America, Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ, promoted its new partially enzymatically hydrolyzed chicory root fiber (inulin) with 65% the sweetness of sucrose. Functionally, it performs similarly to high-fructose corn syrup and can replace 30 to 40% of sugars and some of the fats in baked foods while adding 3 to 5 g fiber, according to Fred S. Kaper, president.

“Most formulators have the perception that fiber is not sweet,” Mr. Kaper said. “We are able to increase the sweetness of inulin using a proprietary process, which results in an ingredient that is about 75% fiber and 25% sugars — all naturally present in the chicory root. It contains about 2 Cal per g and can effectively replace sugars and sugar alcohols as a low-calorie bulking agent while at the same time boosting the fiber content of baked foods.”

The company sampled oatmeal raisin cookies in 30-g servings that dropped from 120 Cal, 4.5 g fat and 9 g sugar to 100 Cal, 3.5 g fat and 6 g sugar. The lower-calorie cookie also was an excellent source of fiber, delivering 5 g in the form of soluble fiber. 

Reducing fat contents

For bakery products such as breads, muffins and cookies, fat tends to be a major contributor to calories.

Fiber, a specialized form of carbohydrates, provides an interesting alternative to such fats. “One common approach is to reduce the fat content with carbohydrates because traditional carbohydrates have a lower caloric value — 4 Cal per g compared with fat’s 9 Cal per g,” Dr. Jaundoo said. “Among carbohydrates, fibers, with their even lower caloric value, which varies from 1 to 3 Cal per g, have been widely used as partial fat replacers.”

Roquette offers soluble and insoluble fibers that serve as partial fat replacers that also cut calories. “Our soluble corn fiber has a caloric value of 2.1 Cal per g and is agglomerated for easy dissolution,” Dr. Jaundoo explained. “It is easy to incorporate in bakery products by itself or as a bulking agent with other ingredients, for example, with a high-intensity sweetener for sugar replacement.”

Pea fiber, another fiber ingredient from Roquette, contains 2 Cal per g. Dr. Jaundoo described its mix of different fiber forms: “It contains cellulose, pectin, hemicellulose and lignin, which, when combined with the native pea starch in the ingredient, offers structural and functional benefits in baking.”

Mr. O’Brien explained that functional flours and modified starches are also options for reducing the fat content of indulgent baked foods.

“Our functional specialty flour is an easy drop-in replacement for shortening and is declared on ingredient legends simply as ‘wheat flour,’” he said. “We developed a 25%-reduced-fat brownie that provides a 12% reduction in calories, from 170 to 150 per 28-g bar. The ingredient also provides a cost savings because it is less expensive than the shortening it replaces.”

Muffin formulas also slimmed down in sugar and fat content when Ingredion researchers used stevia along with resistant corn starch and functional specialty starches. “We had success creating a high-fiber, reduced-sugar blueberry muffin that has a 17% reduction in calories — from 180 to 160 per 55-g muffin,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Infinite options

A host of other ingredients — and even processes — assist with reducing the calorie content of baked foods. These range from fruit concentrates such as plum juice concentrate to the inclusion of air.

“Another way of reducing caloric density is by increasing the aeration of a product through careful manipulation of emulsifiers and hydrocolloids,” said Troy Boutte, PhD, group manager, bakery/fats and oils, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “This only works with certain products, and while there is some psychology involved, some people actually prefer the lighter products. A perfect example of this is highly aerated buttercreme icings for cakes vs. the denser traditional style.”

Because, as Ms. Davis noted, consumers look at the caloric content of foods when making purchase decisions, formulators have a bottom-line responsibility to explore options that tell one product from another by energy content — even if that’s just a 20-Cal difference.