Corn muffins benefit from honey’s ability to round out flavors and soften texture.

The way labels reveal a food’s carbohydrate contents changed this year — and so did the way formulators must address sweetener choices. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released mandatory revisions to the content and format of the Nutrition Facts Panel required on food labels. One of the biggest shifts occurred in the lines describing carbohydrates.

For the first time, every label must declare the amount of added sugars, and labeling language has changed. “Sugars” now will be declared as “Total Sugars” with added sugars noted in a gram amount by “Includes ‘X’ g Added Sugars.” The value for total sugars will include all naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose in orange juice and maltose in flour, plus the amount of sugar added to the food during manufacturing. No Daily Value was set for total sugars; however, for added sugars, FDA advised consumers to limit them to no more than 10% of daily calories or 50 g for adults and children over four years of age.

A different situation applies to fermented foods like yeast-raised baked goods. The sugar added to fuel yeast is usually fully consumed before baking, and little remains in the finished product to be labeled. FDA acknowledged this by allowing companies making fermented foods to petition for alternative compliance.


Sugar source matters

This label declaration suggests that an added sugar is just that, an added sugar. Consumers need to reduce intake. How they get to less than 50 g per day is their own choice. And for many consumers, it is very personal, which is why an increasing number of consumers scrutinize ingredient legends. For some, sugar source matters, with a growing number of Americans preferring minimally processed sweeteners made by Mother Nature.

“Intense focus on added sugars consumption and links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease are motivating consumers to not only reduce total sweetener consumption but also switch to sweeteners perceived as more healthful,” said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

According to research conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Beneo, people are gaining a better understanding that not all sugars are alike. The study of 1,000 US consumers indicated that along with looking for foods that are natural, clean label and nutritious without empty calories, they also pay close attention to the levels of sugar contained in their food choices.

Respondents indicated they are aware that the amount and type of sugars play a major role in coping with health issues. While the survey reflected an ambivalent relationship with sugar, respondents indicated that there is awareness that some sugars are better for their health than others. Sugar from honey, for example, was perceived as the most appealing sweetener in the US because of its natural attributes. Furthermore, about two out of three agreed that naturally derived sugars from fruits, vegetables and plants are healthier (64%). A similar number also said they preferred natural sugars to low-calorie sweeteners (65%). Finally, 60% of those polled indicated their ideal sweetener would not lead to a “sugar boost and crash effect.”

White sorghum syrup makes a good alternative to a sugary coating for snacks and ready-to-eat cereals.

Inherently sweet source

As the survey showed, fruit ingredients have long been considered a natural way of adding sweetness to foods, including baked goods. With the new labeling requirements, however, there are some limitations on how juice ingredients affect sugar content.

According to the final rule, a food manufacturer must declare as added sugars the amount of sugar in a juice ingredient that is above and beyond what would be contributed by the same volume of the same type of juice when reconstituted to 100%. For example, if 15 g concentrated apple juice, which has 6 g sugars, is added to sweeten a muffin, and the same amount (15 g) of 
100% apple juice contains 1.7 g sugar, then 4.3 g of the sugars in the apple juice concentrate would be considered added sugars in the muffin.

Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients recently introduced a number of 100% Carolina-made sweet potato ingredients, which can replace artificial sweeteners and other unpopular ingredients in clean-label applications. One such ingredient is a cloudy sweet potato juice that contributes sweetness to baked goods while adding flavor, color and a nutritional boost. There’s also a clarified version that is an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup and sugar and, at the same time, contributes vegetable content, according to John Kimber, COO.

“Our product development team has successfully created applications with compelling nutritional profiles, as well as sensory appeal,” he pointed out. “This includes a brownie sweetened solely with sweet potato juice concentrate. These new ingredients do a great job solving clean-label issues and will allow food brands to add the health trend appeal of sweet potatoes to a wider range of applications.”

Derived from chicory root, inulin brings its own sweetness to bakery formulas.

The power of honey

A range of viscous syrups extracted from various grains and plants are recognized as minimally processed sweeteners direct from Mother Nature. Honey is likely the most common, especially in the baked goods sector. Containing fructose, glucose and some higher saccharides and produced exclusively by bees, honey has a sweetness similar to sucrose and often contributes color and flavor to the application.

“Honey’s advantage as a sweetener is its marketability, its story that has always started with the honey bee,” said Keith Seiz, spokesperson for the National Honey Board. “It complements today’s clean-label formulating trend, and many marketers are bringing honey to the front of the package to clearly communicate to consumers its inclusion in a packaged food.”

Mr. Seiz emphasized that honey is honey — regardless of who or what country supplies it — which supports its pure and simple reputation. “Honey is a pure product that does not allow addition of any other substances,” he said. “Codex Alimentarius is very explicit and states ‘honey sold as such shall not have added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey.’ ”

This is not to say that all honey is created equal. In fact, honey varies in color, flavor and even consistency, based on the flowers from which worker bees extract nectar that eventually becomes honey. The colors of honey form a continuum of water-white to dark amber. Light-colored honey typically has a mild flavor, while the darker colors are more intense.

There are three types of honey, with liquid honey being the most common. It is extracted from the honeycomb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining and is typically free of visible crystals.

“Dried honey is derived from pure liquid honey and will include processing aids and other ingredients,” Mr. Seiz said. “The honey is dried to a low moisture content. This gets converted to free-flowing powders, flakes or granules with a minimum 50% pure honey content.”

Both liquid and dried products are used as sweeteners in food formulations, with the former having additional functions, such as ingredient binder and humectant.

The third type of honey is known as whipped or creamed honey. It is sold in a crystallized state and at room temperature is used as a spread much like butter or jelly.

In grain-based foods, such as hearty breads made with ancient, sprouted and whole grains, honey can round out bitter notes and robust textures. It also functions as a natural shelf life extender because it inhibits mold growth in baked goods by binding moisture. This same property makes it a useful humectant in gluten-free baked goods, which tend to dry out and stale easily.

There are important considerations when working with honey and in product reformulations. This is because honey can be as much as 1.5 times sweeter than sugar on a dry basis. Honey also contains enzymes that can break down other ingredients in a formulation, impacting the finished ­product. Honey tends to speed up the Maillard browning reaction in baked goods, so time and temperature often needs to be adjusted.

Natural, high-intensity sweeteners such as stevia are often combined with fiber to bulk up applications.

Grain and plant syrups

When honey cost is an issue, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. offers a white grain sorghum extract that can be used to replace some or all of the honey in a formulation. It functions as a one-to-one replacer in whole wheat and multigrain breads.

“The white sorghum plant is a sustainable North American crop and is distinguished by light color and a clean, wildflower honey-like flavor that masks bitter notes,” said Judie Giebel, technical services representative, Briess Malt & Ingredients, and AIB Certified Master Baker. It answers the need for alternatives to corn syrup, sugar and other sweeteners in a unique way, she noted.

Declared simply as “grain sorghum extract” on ingredient legends, it offers formulating options in an array of baked goods with the added benefit of functioning as a browning agent, including in gluten-free baked goods and bars. The extract is available in conventional and organic formats.

Agave nectar, also sometimes called agave syrup, is another viscous sweetener that bakers are learning to use in formulas. Like honey, agave may contribute color and flavor. It is the naturally sweet juice extracted from the agave cactus plant and is about 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sucrose, with the same 4 Cal per g. In most recipes, one cup sugar can be replaced by two-thirds cup agave, along with a minor adjustment to added liquids.

If extreme calorie and added sugar reduction is desired, stevia-enhanced agave nectar is available to bakers. It contains less than 3 Cal per g. “Because it is about four times as sweet as sucrose, it is possible to get up to a 75% reduction in sugar and calories,” said Thom King, president, Steviva Ingredients.

Bakers can choose from other syrups extracted from plants and grains, with sources ranging from maple trees to rice kernels to tapioca pearls. These minimally processed ingredients vary in sweetness. Many such syrups are not as sweet as sugar, yet they still deliver 4 Cal per g, which means more might be necessary to achieve the same sweetness as sugar when used alone. This is why syrups are often used along with high-intensity sweeteners. When a natural positioning is desired, they can be paired with stevia or monk fruit or both.