CHICAGO — Traditional sources of sweeteners such as honey, sugar and maple syrup are more preferred versus lesser known, processed or chemical-sounding sweeteners such as sorbitol, xylitol or acesulfame K, according to a survey by Kerry, the Taste & Nutrition Co.

Conducted earlier this year, the online study of 760 American consumers found significant differences between their “awareness” and “preferences” for various sweeteners. Kerry released the initial findings during IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual expo held July 15-18 in Chicago.

When it comes to “awareness,” 82% of consumers recognized honey and sugar followed by maple syrup (71%), molasses (66%), high-fructose corn syrup (63%), stevia (58%), agave (50%) and aspartame (46%).

However, 64% of respondents “preferred” honey followed by sugar (59%), maple syrup (31%) and stevia (22%), agave (13%), molasses (9%), high-fructose corn syrup (7%) and aspartame (6%).

Although stevia came in as the fourth most preferred sweetener, consumers were ambiguous over whether it was a natural or artificial ingredient, according to Kerry. In all, the survey polled consumers about 17 different sweeteners, but the initial findings gave the results for only the Top 8.

Moreover, the survey indicated that 55% of American consumers want reduced sugar products to taste the same.

“With 71% of consumers reading the sugar content on ingredient labels today, the focus on lower sugar products has never been higher,” the study noted.

During IFT18, Kerry introduced its TasteSense Sweet natural flavoring system that allows for up to 30% reduction in some applications, including bakery.

Kerry“The challenge for us, especially within baking, was to come up with a solution that not only allows the reduction of sugar without compromising on taste, but also address the functional challenges when it comes to bakery products,” said Dave Franz, senior director business development – taste, for Kerry Americas Region, Beloit, Wis.

TasteSense Sweet, he added, helps mitigate the taste compromise that arises when reducing sugar using lower calorie sweeteners. In cakes, the bake-stable flavor system, which comes in liquid and dry forms, can be incorporated in frosting, the batter or the filling, depending on the formula and desired taste profile.

In high-fiber or high-protein bread, the flavor system masks off-notes, noted Deborah Waters, bakery application manager, Kerry.

“It’s a much more pleasant taste, not necessarily sweetness, but it masks other flavors such as bitterness,” she said.

Ms. Waters added that bakers may need to rebalance their formulas to maintain bulk, viscosity and other product characteristics in baked foods.

Because the flavor system is natural, Mr. Franz said, it allows for sugar reduction that interplays with the clean label movement.

“Clean label is really multidimensional, and while consumers are interested in cleaning up the label decks of the products that they’re consuming, they don’t want to compromise on taste, and the same goes with sugar reduction,” he said.

More results on Kerry’s “2018 Report on Consumer Taste Preferences on Sweeteners” will be released later this year.