Spoonshot’s analysis of social media conversations about natural sweeteners found stevia to be the most talked about ingredient, appearing in 39% of consumer conversations. Perception of stevia was analyzed.

“In consumer conversations about stevia, 24% talked about its low-calorie feature, 23% highlighted its gluten-free nature and 18% of conversations were associated with its keto compliant feature,” said Ranjana Sundaresan, lead research analyst, Spoonshot. “Interestingly, only 15% of conversations were about stevia’s natural credentials. In 7% of conversations, organic was an important feature in connection with stevia.”

Stevia leaves contain dozens of sweet components; however, two of the best-tasting, Reb M and Reb D, comprise less than 1% of the stevia leaf. Fermentation can provide a sustainable way to obtain Reb M and Reb D glycosides using fermentation. This process uses less water, less land and has a smaller carbon footprint, according to the recently completed Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the technology.

“We knew our approach offered tangible environmental benefits,” said Andrew Ohmes, global product line manager for high-intensity sweeteners, Cargill. “Now, with the completion of our LCA, we can quantify this sustainability edge.”

Other players in the stevia space have invested in technologies to differentiate.

“We’ve developed a novel approach for extraction and purification of our proprietary plant-based stevia, ultimately leading to a better-performing sweetening solution with qualities that appeal to both product developers and consumers,” Ms. Diedrich said. “For the best-quality flavor to mitigate the need for maskers and allow for easier formulation, we target the stevia leaf extract. Our proprietary technology extracts and purifies the stevia leaf to maximize the glycosides for superior taste, delivering 15% more sweetness than other steviol glycosides and minimizing undesirable attributes such as bitterness and astringency.”

ADM uses the rest of its ingredient portfolio to round out sugar’s functionality beyond taste.

“For example, we combine our proprietary stevia and reduced sugar glucose syrup (RSGS) to provide structural integrity and improve overall mouthfeel while also maintaining flavor and sweetness,” said Hanna Santoro, senior scientist-baking development and applications, ADM.

 “Our soluble dietary fiber solutions also work exceptionally well with our stevia for bulking and binding as well as added nutritional benefits. Additionally, if formulators are seeking out high sugar-reduction targets, using our proprietary stevia and RSGS together helps achieve a decrease in sugars by more than 30%.”

Ingredion’s PureCircle portfolio of stevia ingredients provide a clean, sweet taste that mimics sugar’s flavor but also specific bakery flavors such as fruit or spice.

“The ingredients are derived from the stevia leaf in the forms of extracts or bio-converted steviol glycosides and can be labeled as stevia leaf extract, stevia leaf sweetener or natural flavor when used at specified levels,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, technical service and innovation, Ingredion Inc.

[Related reading: Innovating sugar for health and wellness]

Nascent Health Sciences markets high-purity single glycoside stevia leaf extracts and a curated collection of mixed glycosides. To assist bakers with sugar reduction, the company’s ingredient portfolio includes other functional additives.

“Our Reb M is sourced naturally using stevia plants that we grow and harvest using only the most natural processing method possible —  extraction and purification,” said Hank Wang, technical director, Nascent Health Sciences. “Reb M is a newer steviol glycoside that has gained in popularity as an alternative to the more common glycoside Reb A. Many prefer Reb M as it doesn’t have the bitterness and other off-notes that can come with higher use levels of Reb A.”

Tate & Lyle’s proprietary blend of steviol glycosides works well at mid-level sugar reduction levels in bakery applications. It may be used alone or in combination with the company’s monk fruit extract to balance sweetness. The company’s soluble corn fiber provides bulk and nutrition. The company also offers a natural flavor to help balance sweetness and taste.

“For higher sugar reduction levels in the bakery segment, our recent launch of premium Reb M and Reb D provides taste profiles at a cost-competitive and sustainable price point,” said David Nichols, category development and planning manager, Tate & Lyle.

Nascent is introducing a new line of proprietary sweetener blends that are designed as pound-for-pound, one-to-one healthy substitutes for cane sugar. These blends can be applied as an easy drop-in solution, or they can be customized to achieve desired product profiles, such as clean label, low calories, higher nutrition values and fair prices. The blends are non-GMO and organic compliant. They can also be certified organic.

“Our new line of proprietary sweeteners provides the same level of sweetness as cane sugar with a similar intensity curve,” said Michael Chen, managing director, Nascent. “The inclusion of rare sugars like allulose and/or tagatose allows these sweeteners to replicate and replace the texture and mouthfeel of sugar in baked goods.”

These sweeteners also brown and spread similarly to sugar when baked, according to Mr. Wang.

“This is a key property that differentiates them from more traditional solutions of using erythritol or other sugar alcohols,” he said. “They are label-friendly and contain levels of soluble fibers that consumers desire.”

Premium natural high-intensity sweeteners, such as Reb M and monk fruit, may appear costly; however, because they are as much as 300 times as sweet as cane sugar, their cost-in-use improves their economics. Bulking agent, flavors and masking agents may cause prices to creep up.

“It can be difficult to foresee the various effects that processing, ingredient selection and other elements of formulating will have on an end product,” said Corie Beyers, strategic marketing manager, food systems, Ingredion. “We work with our customers to help guide their formulation process, taking into consideration the various factors necessary to ensure a stable, reproducible product. When developers are able to understand how each component interacts and impacts the product as a whole, the process becomes much more effective and efficient.

“Today’s consumers are altering their consumption habits and product preferences at a rapid pace,” Ms. Beyers said. “Taking a systems approach to product development accelerates the process, enabling our customers to respond to the market. This includes developing new products and reformulating existing favorites to improve consumer appeal.”

With the supplier support, bakers can leverage the way all of these ingredients can work together to promote taste and functionality while also reducing sugar.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sweeteners, click here.