With price increases and supply chain woes, bakers are looking for ways to cut or hold down costs. Or they may need to consider reformulating temporarily or for the long-term if they can’t get the right ingredients, including their sweetener of choice.

Forecasts were bullish for 2022-23 sugar prices at the International Sweetener Colloquium earlier this year, and pressures continue to mount. In early April, Northeast cane sugar prices, which are a benchmark, were 52¢/lb, up from 42¢/lb a year ago, a jump of 24%, according to Sosland Publishing Co. Midwest beet sugar prices, also a benchmark, were 42¢ to 44¢/lb, up from 36.5¢/lb a year ago, a hike of 15% to 20%.

For bakers interested in or forced to make changes in their sweeteners, several factors must be weighed in their formulations.

“If supply chain challenges arise, it’s often helpful to take a step back, define your parameters, determine your goals and talk to your ingredient supplier,” said Keyla Rodriguez, technical services manager, Cargill. “Finding the best sweetening solution alternative hinges on a number of factors, including the total sweetness required, the functionality needed and the flavor profile of the finished product.”

Figuring out what each sweetener brings to an application allows bakers to choose a replacement and use it in the best way possible to ensure cost effectiveness.

“Understanding the ingredient’s physical properties is the basis for overcoming replacement challenges,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, innovation and technical service, sweeteners, Ingredion.

“Knowing that the original sweetener has a given level of sweetness, provides texture, flavor, color and shelf life to the finished product will help screen the potential choices and match the characteristics. Maintaining a sweet flavor profile is usually the easiest attribute to maintain as the sweetness can be topped off with a high-potency sweetener like stevia.”

Considering what sweetener to use is dependent on the application, which means there are few easy answers when reformulating.

“While we wish there was a simple table that laid out the alternatives and that every ingredient had a one-to-one replacement, it’s just not that simple,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t take out one sweetener, drop in another at the same rate and expect the same result. It’s usually going to take a combination of ingredients to yield a similar finished product, and the solutions will vary based on the specific application.”

Most experts agree that replacing the sweetness in baked goods is easier than replacing the functionality and bulk provided by sugar.

“Functionality is the most difficult to replicate when switching sweeteners as the alternative usually has some but not all of the same properties and cannot be a one-for-one replacement,” Mr. Shinsato explained.

Melissa Riddell, head of innovation and technical services, Batory Foods, concurred that a combination most likely will be needed.

“The best option is not always going to be a single ingredient and will most likely require rebalancing the moisture and solids in the formula,” she said.

Sensory perception will need to be replicated when choosing an alternative sweetener.

“The biggest workaround is functionality, for example, ensuring that baked goods rise and deliver the desired mouthfeel,” said Thom King, chief executive officer of Icon Foods. “This is where allulose and soluble tapioca play a role, as well as FOS, or fructooligosaccharides, fiber.” 

The use of high-intensity sweeteners can provide off notes, which may require some trial-and-error recipe adjustments.

“When switching sweeteners, a challenge bakers face is matching the level of sweetness perceived by the consumers,” said Yanling Yin, PhD and director of bakery applications at Corbion. “Bakers must optimize their formula with the consumer’s sensory experience in mind. If a new option can offer additional benefits, like cost savings, nutrition, etc., customers might be flexible on the differences.”

This article is an excerpt from the May 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sweeteners, click here.