The good health news is that Americans are consuming nearly 20% less added sugar than they did 20 years ago. The bad? People are still gobbling it up at levels well above recommended amounts. The average American consumes about 123 lbs of added sugar each year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

But the drop — down about 28 lbs a year from a 1999 high — shows that consumers are trying to lead more healthful lifestyles. Anyone watching the new bakery products coming out each week can see that reduced sugar treats are trending.

And bakeries have a variety of options to help replace sugar with lower calorie options that are considered clean label, including chicory root fiber (also called inulin or oligofructose, which is a sweeter subgroup of inulin), monk fruit, erythritol, allulose and stevia, “the OG of sweeteners,” said Thom King, chief executive officer and food scientist at Icon Foods.

Each has a different level of sweetness and brings its own attributes.

“Sugar is the gold standard for taste and is highly functional in baked goods,” said Tim Christensen, certified master baker at Cargill. “While sugar reduction continues to ramp up in bakery, it is possible to achieve a modest reduction of 15% to 20% in cookies and 20% to 50% in cakes and muffins using ingredients like stevia and soluble fibers, with limited effect on overall product performance.”

When developing a low-calorie or low-sugar product or reducing sugar in an existing one, the first step is defining objectives, Mr. Christensen said.

“Are you trying to make a specific sugar-reduction claim or achieve a set amount of sugar per serving?” he asked. “Is the goal to simply reduce sugar levels, or is calorie reduction a concern as well? Not all sugar-reducing ingredients also reduce calories. Are there other label considerations, such as organic or non-GMO, that might impact ingredient choices? How important is cost in the solution? Answering these questions can help guide your formulation choices.”

Formulators also must determine the target for sugar reduction, including which claims will be made on a product.

“Determine the cost amount allowed for replacement of sugar, which might help determine which ingredients may be used and guide how much sugar may be reduced,” said Ya Liu, PhD, bakery business development director and bakery applications leader at Kerry North America. “Evaluate how the taste has changed and what other flavor and functional components need to be replaced, including shelf life factors, processing factors, etc. Check regulatory requirements for ingredients in all regions that the product may be sold. Focus on taste in the final product, and try to minimize off notes and deliver the best tasting product.”

Knowing what consumers are looking for in a clean label reduced-sugar product also helps guide formulating.

“Since clean label or label friendly can mean something different to each consumer, product attributes that constitute a clean label in the minds of consumers are of differing importance,” noted Sarah Diedrich, marketing director, sweetening solutions and fibers, ADM. “However, there are a few commonalities that consumers seek, including simple, recognizable ingredients and short ingredients lists. … Sweetening ingredients that are closer to nature tend to catch shoppers’ eyes as an indication of clean label sweeteners, including stevia, allulose and monk fruit.”

And for bakers interested in no-sugar-added claims, fruit-based sweeteners like fruit pastes and fruit juice concentrates and powdered fruit products could provide a solution, Dr. Liu said.

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