Sugar has gotten a bad rap. Consumers hold it responsible for the obesity crisis as well as diseases such as diabetes. Just like fat and carbohydrates before it, sugar is facing down negative reviews, and the food industry must decide how to handle it.

The US’s obesity issue has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considering a proposal that would revise the current Nutrition Facts panel to add a line detailing the “added sugar” in the product.

The potential for this added sugar label could pose some problems, particularly for the baking industry. “The key issue the bakers have is, there is no approved analytical method for measuring added sugar, and it gets more complicated for bakery products because of the fermentation process,” said Lee Sanders, senior vice-president, government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association (ABA). “What you put in isn’t necessarily what you get out.”

Bakers looking to slash sugar in the hopes of winning over those consumers will face a challenge not just of taste but also of functionality. “Sugar is marvelous at what it does,” said Melanie Goulson, sweetener applications leader, Cargill, Wayzata, MN. “There is no other single ingredient that does everything sugar does: the sweetness, the bulk and the functionality it provides.” The best way to tackle this conundrum, she suggested, was working closely with a supplier to find a systems approach that delivers all that functionality and flavor while still meeting the baker’s goals.

Flavor comes first

The main fear when reducing sugar is a loss of sweetness. “Sugar does a lot of things in bakery, but primarily it provides sweetness,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, Ingredion, Westchester, IL. “That is the first thing you will notice if you take it out or reduce it and don’t replace it with something equally sweet.”

Today’s portfolio of ingredients, however, can be combined to form a replacement system that will ensure the sweet flavor mimics that of the original formulation.

Chicory root fiber, for example, can be paired with artificial sweeteners to mask off-flavors or with stevia to bring the taste profile in line with sugar, according to Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus Americas, Lawrenceville, NJ. “A lot of companies manufacturing stevia are using chicory root fiber in combination to achieve the taste profile they want, and they’re still able to have a natural clean-label product,” he said. “If there’s any sort of artificial sweeteners, chicory root fiber can mask those in the most extreme cases of sugar reduction.”

With its recent acquisition of Wild Flavors, ADM, Decatur, IL, now has a Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients division that offers bakers a line of sweetness modifier flavors. These ingredients are not sweetener alternatives but are natural flavors that magnify the sweetness of a product. “You can take a less-sweet ingredient such as corn syrup or maltodextrin, and with the addition of a compatible flavor, maintain the sweetness the consumer expects from the product,” said Allan Buck, director, R&D, ADM.

Functional and flavorful

Sugar provides more than just a sweet taste on the tongue in bakery products. The functionality it brings to baked goods makes it a challenging ingredient to replace. “Sugar reduction in every other category is a pretty simple task,” said Thom King, president and CEO, Steviva Ingredients, Portland, OR. “In baked goods, it’s almost like alchemy.”

Depending on the application, sugar can provide structure, moisture, texture and impact shelf life. “Sugar plays an important part in the Maillard reaction of baked goods, which gives us the caramelized sugar flavor and golden brown color that we have grown to expect from our chocolate chip cookies and blueberry muffins,” said Marquita Johnson, senior application specialist, PureCircle, Oak Brook, IL. “Less sugar also means less water binding and more water available for gluten formation and gelatinization of starches, which can lead to more dense and crumbly baked goods. Additionally, sugar helps to incorporate air during batter preparation, which creates leavening, leading to lighter, fluffier products.”

With so many product qualities relying on sugar, polyols such as maltitol are often the first choice to replace the most functions of sugar with one ingredient, according to Mr. Shinsato. “Maltitol is very similar in physical properties to sugar,” he said. “It has a very comparable weight as well as particle size and shape.” Maltitol also is 90% as sweet as sugar, so bakers don’t need to add a high-potency sweetener to replicate taste.

“The other thing to think about is, you can reduce added sugars, but you have to ask yourself if you want to also reduce calories,” Mr. Buck said. Not only do polyols not appear as sugar on the label while still maintaining sugar’s functionality, but they also lower calories. “While polyols and sugars by definition are both carbohydrates, polyols are not sugars,” he said. “Sorbitol has 2.6 Cal per g, so it would be a way to reduce calories as well.” ADM also offers maltodextrins and corn syrups that can range between 1.6 Cal per g to 2.2 Cal per g vs. 4 Cal per g for sucrose.

New Century, KS-based DuPont Nutrition & Health’s Litesse polydextrose also can deliver reduced calories while replacing sugar with only 1 Cal per g. The ingredient can be used as an equal-weight basis to replace 30 to 50% of sugar while maintaining finished product quality. Because Litesse is not as sweet as sugar, it can be paired with high-intensity sweeteners to deliver the desired flavor profile.

It’s true that there sometimes isn’t one ingredient that can replace sugar, but by combining ingredients, bakers can mimic the flavor and functionality. For Cargill, this systems approach means finding the appropriate sweetener alternative and, when necessary, pairing that ingredient with texturizers or stabilizers to get the functionality a product requires. “When it comes to functional bulking, there are a lot of tools: Oliggo-Fiber chicory root inulin, Zerose erythritol, reduced-sugar corn syrup and Maltidex maltitol,” Ms. Goulson said.

Cleaning up sweeteners

If bakers want to pursue a clean ingredient list, however, polyols may not be acceptable. “Clean-label sugar reduction has been a trend for the past four years and will continue to grow,” Mr. King said. “As long as there is an obesity epidemic nationally and abroad, that’s going to be big and growing exponentially as people’s waistlines grow.”

Clean-label sweetener alternatives, however, are often missing either functionality or taste. Blending functional ingredients with natural sweeteners enables bakers to get the bulk they need with the sweetness consumers crave while still having an ingredient list that’s recognizable. The clean-label sweetener alternative of the moment that pairs well with functional ingredients is, of course, stevia. “No other high-potency sweetener has the great taste, the friendly label and the stability in baking,” Ms. Goulson said. “And its versatility — stevia can perform in combination with any number of functional bulking agents and systems.” Cargill’s stevia-based sweetener ingredient portfolio ViaTech leverages the interactions between stevia components and allows bakers to use stevia at high levels without off notes.

When pursuing radical sugar reduction, stevia can be a key component. For such extremes as removing all added sugars, Mr. King recommended Steviva Ingredients’ Steviva Blend, which combines stevia with erythritol to replace the bulk that can be missing in a high-intensity sweetener. The blend is twice as sweet as sugar but only carries 0.2 Cal per g and has a low glycemic load, making it safe for diabetics. The ingredient is also non-GMO.

For basic sugar reduction, Steviva Ingredients also has its Fructevia sweetener, which blends non-GMO crystalline fructose with stevia. The crystalline fructose provides caramelization and enables baked goods to rise and become crispy while maintaining moisture. By augmenting the fructose with stevia, bakers can reduce the amount of nutritive sweetener, Mr. King explained.

The company’s Nectivia line, a stevia-fortified agave nectar, can plug into formulations for pie fillings, which rely so heavily on much-demonized high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Like Fructevia, Nectivia’s glycemic load is negligible, making it safe for diabetics.

Fibers are another clean-label option that can provide many of the same functions as sugar as well as providing some nutritional benefits. “The functional properties of chicory root fiber are close to HFCS and sugar,” Mr. Turowski said. “It provides humectancy, so you’ll maintain your moisture and texture.” Sensus Americas’ Frutalose oligofructose is more than half as sweet as sugar with the same functionality and 90% dietary fiber. It allows bakers to reduce sugar without affecting taste while also enabling them to start making added-fiber claims.

Chicory root fiber, also known as inulin and oligofructose, not only helps bakers maintain bulk while reducing sugar, but it also brings the nutrition of dietary fiber. “With clean-label [formulating], chicory root fiber still plays a big role not only from a functionality point of view but also for the nutrition benefits,” said Joe O’Neill, president, Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, NJ. “Formulators  have an opportunity with inulin and oligofructose as a low-caloric sweetener and can capitalize on its fiber benefits, which are well known to promote good digestive health. Also, recent studies have shown that they have a positive influence on blood sugar management.” At only 2 Cal per g, inulin in syrup form can be ideal in bar applications that need the binding properties of sugar. The bars will benefit from an improved nutrition profile and shelf life extension benefits.

Functional carbohydrates, such as Isomalt and Beneo’s latest ingredient Palatinose, are also nutrition-positive ingredients. Isomalt and Palatinose are both sourced from sugar beets and provide a low-glycemic alternative to high-glycemic carbohydrates such as maltodextrin and sucrose. “Palatinose provides sustained energy. It’s a low-glycemic sugar, which produces a slow glucose release that has a low impact on blood glucose and insulin levels avoiding the well known sugar ‘peak and crash,’ ” Mr. O’Neill explained.

With the ever-changing marketplace, however, the search continues as the clean-label trend begins to bow to consumer concerns about GMOs. “That’s the Holy Grail in the sweetener world: to find that no-calorie, all natural, non-GMO, ‘minus everything’ ingredient that is still cheaper than sugar at the same time,” Mr. Shinsato said.