Can you really use one nutritive sweetener to cut levels of another nutritive sweetener? Yes, when it’s honey that’s replacing sugar. In this exclusive Baking & Snack Q&A, Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board, describes the technical details and consumer advantages of this substitution.

Baking & Snack: What sugar-sparing strategies do you advise bakery formulators to follow?

Catherine Barry: Today’s consumer is more aware than ever about the ingredients in the foods they eat. Honey plays an important role in sweetening bakery foods, giving bakers the opportunity to sweeten their products with an ingredient with exceptional familiarity and trust with consumers. This is very important to a growing segment of consumers who intensely read labels and crave more natural and clean products.

How sweeteners are manufactured and their perceived naturalness also has received intense media scrutiny. Since honey is produced in nature by bees, manufacturers who sweeten their products with honey don’t have to worry about the perception consumers will have when reading an ingredient listing.

What ingredients do the members of the National Honey Board offer for bakery and snack applications that reduce the amount of sugar in such foods?

Honey is the ideal ingredient for the commercial baking industry, delivering form, function and marketing benefits. When bakers put honey in a product, they usually just don’t confine the ingredient’s labeling exposure to the ingredient list. Bakers also use “honey” in the name of the product and include honey imagery such as the honey dipper, bees or jars of honey to capitalize on the sweetener’s consumer appeal.

Whether it’s a honey whole wheat bagel or a flax-and-honey bread, honey is used to deliver flavor and marketing benefits.

How does this work? What is the mechanism that allows these ingredients to reduce overall sugar content? Or cut the finished products glycemic index? What usage and/or substitution levels are required?

Because of its high fructose content, honey is sweeter than sugar, allowing bakers to use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. When substituting honey for sugar in formulas, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the formulas. Bakers also will have to reduce the oven temperature by 25 F degrees to prevent over-browning, reduce any liquid called for by 25% for each part of honey used and add 1% baking soda for each part honey used.

Primarily composed of fructose and glucose, honey provides more sweetness than sugar and has a natural appeal. Bakers can cut back on the total amount of sweetener added by using honey. Honey’s sugar profile does change slightly between floral sources. Fructose can range from 30.91 to 44.26% and glucose can range from 22.89 to 40.75%.

Honey can be used as a complete or partial replacement for almost any sweetener. However, differences in formulas and baking environment make substitution guidelines slightly different dependent on the formula.

Can you point to baked foods already on the market that achieve such results?

Many bakers are turning to honey to capitalize on the ingredient’s popularity and ability to mask the off flavors of whole grain and whole wheat products. The popular pretzel chain, Auntie Anne’s, recently launched a Honey Whole Grain Pretzel made with whole grain flour and sweetened with a hint of honey.

Other bakeries in the gluten-free market also are turning to honey to provide flavor and moisture in these bakery foods. Honey is naturally free of gluten, containing no wheat, barley, rye or oats or their byproducts. In gluten-free formulas, where texture and flavor often suffer, honey offers bakers distinct flavor, color and textural enhancement by retaining moisture.

Looking at current uses of your ingredients in such formulations, how would you recommend their use be improved? Be made more effective in reducing the amounts of added sugars?

Honey is such a great ingredient for the baking industry because it performs many roles beyond just sweetening bakery foods. Products that contain honey dry out more slowly and have a lesser tendency to crack. This is due to honey’s hygroscopicity. Honey also provides more uniform baking with a more evenly browned crust at lower temperatures as a result of the sweetener’s fructose content.

Honey also imparts an improved aroma at relatively small percentages (up to 6% by weight of the flour) in sweet cakes, biscuits, breads and similar products. The high acidity of honey (avg. pH 3.91) also helps inhibit mold growth in bakery foods and extend shelf life.

Honey naturally coats, binds and thickens products, improving body and mouthfeel. Because it is water soluble, honey is easily added to a variety of mixes and can be pumped or extruded in a variety of manufacturing processes.

How must these materials be labeled in the ingredient listing on packages?

Honey is simply labeled honey. It is made by bees, not developed in manufacturing facilities. It’s natural, and consumers know it. The National Honey Board recently conducted a consumer survey (National Honey Board Bakery and Consumer Honey Usage Research Report, June 2011) to measure honey’s perception as an all-natural sweetener. Interview participants were read a list of sweeteners they might find in foods at the grocery store and asked to indicate whether they feel it is a natural sweetener. A full 96% of participants felt that honey is a natural sweetener. Full results include:

•           Honey – 96%

•           Granulated sugar – 74%

•           Molasses – 73%

•           Cane juice – 61%

•           Corn syrup – 49%

•           Fruit juice concentrate – 49%

•           Agave nectar – 23%

•           High-fructose corn syrup – 23%

•           Non-caloric sweeteners – 15%