People will soon see the amount of added sugars portrayed both in grams and as a per cent of the recommended daily value on every nutrition label when the Food and Drug Administration begins enforcing the mandatory declaration of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label in 2020. This upcoming change has bakers re-examining the types of sweeteners they use in their products and looking for alternatives that are more favorable to consumers.  

One way to lower sugar levels on the label and achieve a clean ingredient list is by adding natural options like whole fruit or fruit juices and concentrates. These can contribute sweetness and other nutrients to formulation without adding sugar. For example, prune juice concentrate can replace brown sugar or molasses without adding to total sugar because some of the sweetness in prune juice concentrate comes from sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which the body processes differently. Sunsweet Ingredients’ prune juice concentrate is sweet, but not all of its taste comes from sugar. The sugars for 100 grams of prune juice concentrate breaks down as 21.28 grams of glucose, 14.38 grams of fructose, 0.4 grams of sucrose and 16.2 grams of sorbitol. The low levels of sucrose can help keep labels free from added sugars.

“The sorbitol and fiber in prunes helps to bind moisture in baked goods, improving the texture,” said Kate Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients. “Prunes also boost the Maillard reaction, allowing baked goods to achieve a golden or caramelized exterior with less added sugar.”

Research by Corbion showed that ingredients with a perception of “natural,” like honey, agave nectar, stevia and monk fruit extract, are more likely to be accepted in sweet baked goods as sugar substitutes.

Stevia-based sweeteners are made from extracts (steviol glycosides) from leaves of the stevia rebaudina plant. They are 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. The F.D.A. has received many GRAS notifications for use of high-purity (95% minimum purity) steviol glycosides, including rebaudioside A (also known as reb A), stevioside, rebaudioside D and steviol glycoside mixture preparations with reb A and/or stevioside as main components.

To replace the taste of sugar, next-generation stevia sweeteners are another good choice. Cargill’s ViaTech stevia sweeteners offer improved sweetness and flavor dynamics compared to earlier Reb A stevia options, enabling greater sugar reductions in a wide array of bakery applications.

While stevia replaces the sweetness of sugar, it won’t make up for the loss of bulking functionality. For those properties, Cargill offers Zerose erythritol, a natural, zero-calorie bulk sweetener, and Oliggo-Fiber chicory root fiber.

“Together, these ingredients help deliver the mouthfeel consumers expect,” said Tim Christensen, senior food technologist, R.&D. bakery applications, Cargill. “In many bakery applications, the combination of stevia, erythritol and chicory root fiber can successfully replace the functionality of sugar, keep cost-of-use in check and deliver on consumer preferences.”

Erythritol has about 60% to 70% the sweetening power of sucrose with 0 calories per gram. It occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes as well as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese. Since 2001, it has been considered GRAS, making it an attractive bulk sweetener in baked foods.

In addition to meeting consumers’ demand for clean labels, natural sweeteners and syrups can introduce flavor profiles and health benefits that aren’t available with most traditional syrups, said Michelle Schwenk, group director of carbohydrate and wellness, ADM.

“For example, stevia can enhance creamy dairy notes in yogurt and milk flavors; complement ‘brown’ flavor notes like vanilla, chocolate and cooked sugars; and heighten ‘cooked fruit’ flavor notes to answer consumers’ desire for an appealing taste with fewer calories,” she said.

Another natural alternative is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide that exists in nature. Having received GRAS status in 2015, the ingredient provides the mouthfeel of table sugar with about 70% of its sweetness and 90% fewer calories than conventional sugar.

Ingredion recently partnered with Matsutani Chemical Industry to introduce Astraea Allulose to the United States. The sweetener tastes and functions like sucrose and is absorbed by the body but not metabolized, making it nearly calorie-free. It mimics the texture, bulk, sweetness and functionality of sucrose, enabling calorie reduction with minimal impact to final product characteristics, said Claire Burt, principal technologist, Ingredion.

There are benefits and setbacks to working with any ingredient, and natural syrups present an array of formulation challenges. While many traditional syrups deliver a soft, pliable texture over an extended shelf life, natural syrups begin to crystallize over a period of time.

“In many applications, natural syrups will cause the product to become very hard or too chewy before the end of the expected shelf life,” said Mark Floerke, project lead, bakery and culinary applications, ADM. “To overcome these challenges, bakers will need to add other humectants to the formulation.”

Overall, it is possible to achieve modest reduction of 15% to 20% in cookies and 20% to 50% in cakes and muffins using ingredients like stevia, erythritol and chicory root fiber, all with limited effect on overall product performance.

“This trio of ingredients deliver finished products similar to those created with artificial sweeteners, but they are more in line with consumers’ label-friendly ingredient expectations,” Mr. Christensen said.

As consumers become more mindful of their eating habits, food companies will need to explore these changing attitudes and carefully regulate products’ sugar levels to meet expectations.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on sweeteners, click here.