Formulating with “natural” sweeteners such as honey, malt and maple syrup adds allure to baked foods, an important advantage when appealing to today’s consumers. These sweeteners earned their place in bakery formulas a long time ago, but they deserve another look because their popularity can help justify premium pricing of finished products.

BEE SWEET. Two-thirds of consumers in a use-andattitude survey conducted by the National Honey Board (NHB) were willing to pay more for products made with real honey, up to 15% more. A 2007 survey found honey to be a popular flavor and sweetener among Hispanic consumers. So its properties for improving the performance, flavor and color of baked foods, as well as guarding it against microbial attack, make it a valuable ingredient.

When used at 4 to 6% flour weight basis in frozen dough, honey improved the product’s rheological properties, protected gluten proteins from damage during freezing, significantly improved dough strength and decreased staling, according to a study sponsored by NHB and done at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. When the level of honey rose to 6 to 8%, it exerted a desirable effect on color development of crust and crumb, according to consumer response. NHB also studied honey in bagels and ethnic flatbreads, with similar results.

Liquid honey sometimes crystallizes spontaneously, giving it a coarse, grainy texture. Honey crystallizes because it is a supersaturated solution in which sugars account for more than 70% and water 20%. Glucose tends to precipitate out of the solution, providing seeds, or nuclei, for the formation of crystals. Small particulates and even air bubbles can also serve as crystallization seeds. This problem can be slowed by holding honey at temperatures of 104 to 140°F (40 to 71°C). Also, filtering removes particles that could initiate crystallization. Honey with less than 30% glucose such as tupelo and sage honeys resist granulation.

When substituting honey for other sweeteners, formulators must account for the water naturally present. Because of honey’s acidic nature, a small amount of baking soda may be needed to neutralize its acidity. To reduce excessive crust darkening of yeast-raised baked foods, oven temperature should be reduced by 25 F° (14 C°). Honey contains diastase (amylase), so some reduction in enzyme or diastatic malt levels will be required.

Honey is a complex mixture of carbohydrates, water, enzymes, organic acids, antioxidants and other compounds. Its sugars are mainly fructose, 38.5%, and glucose, 31.0%. The rest is maltose, sucrose and higher saccharides. Oligosaccharides constitute 5% of honey’s carbohydrates and can be detected by infrared spectroscopy, a method that could be used to detect adulteration of honey. The main antioxidants are polyphenolic compounds and remain unaffected by storage for up to six months. The darker the natural color of the honey, the more antioxidants it contains.

Because honey can be very viscous, dried honey products were developed to ease handling problems among commercial users, including bakers. In most cases, the powders, flakes and granules flow freely, and they have the advantage of low moisture content, typically 2 to 3.5%, which allows them to blend easily with other dry ingredients for use in mixes, seasonings and dry coatings.

GRAIN SWEET. Malt gets its major use in baking as a source of amylase enzymes, which break down starch’s long polysaccharide chains to generate the simple sugars required by yeast for fermentation, to improve water retention and to retard staling, but it also acts as a sweetener.

Malt is the dried grain resulting from controlled germination of cereal grains, usually barley. Malt extracts or malt syrups are viscous concentrates of the water extract of dried malt. These extracts are also available in dry form. Whether diastatic (with active enzymes) or nondiastatic, all malt products are considered natural sweeteners and humectants. Barley malt extract contains 1 to 2% fructose, 7 to 10% glucose, 1 to 3% sucrose, 39 to 42% maltose, 10 to 15% maltotriose and 25 to 30% higher saccharides. Malts are generally half as sweet as sucrose, or 55 on a sweetness scale where sucrose rates 100; malt syrups are about 65.

Naturally occurring enzymes — the diastase (now called amylase) gives diastatic malt its name — are inactivated, or denatured, when malted barley receives additional drying to develop more intense, complex flavors and color. Black malt extracts act as natural colorants yet contribute no flavor when used at low percentages, according to Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, NJ. “Chocolate” malted barley flour finds use as a cocoa extender, and its caffeine-free cocoa-like flavor and color suit use in baked foods, toaster pastries, cereal and more. Caramel malts are also available.

Barley is the main source of malt, but other grains yield syrups of interest to formulators. Brown and white rice, as well as sorghum, yield bland-flavored syrups that find use as sweeteners, binders and texturizers in cereals, granola bars, nutrition bars and similar products. White rice syrup and white sorghum syrup, for example, provide lingering sweetness that helps with flavor masking, according to Briess Malt & Ingredients Corp., Chilton, WI.

TREE SWEET. Formulators wanting to bring maple flavor to baked foods face the problem of too much sugar and not enough flavoring power when using traditional maple syrups. Maple syrup concentrates answer the need, according to Citadelle Maple Syrup Producer’s Cooperative, Plessisville, QB.

Made by patented, proprietary processes, the concentrate contains about half the sucrose of the original maple syrup but a much higher level of pure maple syrup minerals and an even higher maple flavor profile. Although the concentrate costs more than traditional maple syrup, applications will use almost half as much product without sacrificing flavor.

The co-op also introduced high-invert maple syrup and maple butter. The syrup features a honey-like consistency, while the butter, which is made by whipping high-invert syrup, offers a matrix of microscopic crystals, giving it a creamy look. All three new products are totally natural, without added ingredients.