Sugar impacts starch gelatinization in cakes and aids in whipping and structure building. Source: Tate & Lyle

Sugar is a vital ingredient in the baking industry. It delivers the decadent notes consumers expect in sweet goods. Sugar’s importance goes beyond just the sweet tooth, though. It also provides the necessary bulk and additional functions in bakery formulations. With sugar in the crosshairs of consumers and the Food and Drug Administration, bakery formulators must try to reduce sugar while maintaining all that bulk and function.

“The introduction of ‘added sugar’ labeling has impacted the development of new products across the industry,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America. “Exactly how this labeling change will affect the purchasing decisions of consumers is still somewhat unknown, especially as it relates to levels of ‘added’ sugar that might be viewed as acceptable.”

This means bakers and formulators don’t have a defined target for sugar reduction. Without a definitive number — such as 25% sugar reduction or 15 grams of added sugar — to aim for on the label, it can be difficult for bakers to move forward on reformulating initiatives.

One thing is for certain: The amount of added sugars in a baked food will be printed on the package for consumers to come to their own conclusions.

Missing functionality
Removing or reducing sugar affects more than just taste. It provides fuel in yeast-leavened products, affects starch gelatinization that improves shelf life and participates in the Maillard reaction that gives baked foods their color. Sugar also contributes to texture, mouthfeel and even the spread of a cookie as it bakes in an oven.

“Sugar is highly functional in bakery formulations, aside from providing bulk,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, Ingredion, Inc. “It also contributes to sweetness, texture, visual appearance, color development and shelf life in most applications. Replacing the bulk that sugar provides also includes compensating for these other functional properties, which is not always easy to do.”


High-potency sweeteners can accommodate the loss of flavor, but they do nothing for the loss of bulk or functionality. Many functional and bulking ingredients can only mimic sugar’s flavor to a point. For further sugar reduction, formulators must implement a systems approach, combining high-potency sweeteners with bulking and/or functional ingredients to replace all that sugar can do.

“When you’re trying to replace the amount of sugar in a product, you need to achieve parity,” said Jon Peters, president, Beneo, Inc. “That is, every ingredient in a bakery product is there for a reason, such as taste, texture, body, mouthfeel and flavor. Therefore, an issue can become how to replace sugar with an ingredient or combination of ingredients that will achieve that parity yet provide the healthier attributes that consumers are seeking.”

These healthier attributes range from a label-friendly ingredient to others that deliver their own desirable nutritious attributes.