KANSAS CITY – Formulators keep finding new ways to blend stevia, monk fruit, allulose and erythritol while consumers become more aware of specific sweeteners. The combination may signal a bright future for sugar reduction efforts.

More than 40% of 2,000 internet users aged 18 and over said they check food labels for the amount of sugar, according to a Mintel survey. Food and beverage companies need to communicate their sugar reduction efforts to consumers, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, during a SupplySide West presentation Nov. 3 in Las Vegas.

“Consumers have a lot of attitudes about sweeteners,” she said. “They think a lot of different things, rightly or wrongly, about sweeteners. So the opportunity is to communicate, communicate, communicate.

“Talk about what is in your product, why it is in your product, from a functional standpoint, to a taste standpoint to the overall experience. (Consumers) are looking at everything possible, looking at all those variables, to make the very best decision possible for them.”

When asked what sweeteners they considered to be processed, nearly 50% in the Mintel survey said refined white sugar, which was followed by zero-calorie artificial sweeteners at over 40%, syrups at over 35%, plant-derived sweeteners at about 25%, molasses at nearly 20%, palm/coconut sugar at over 15%, honey at about 15% and raw cane sugar at about 10%.

Stevia is appearing in 70% to 80% of products that contain natural non-nutritive sweeteners, Ms. Dornblaser said.

“Stevia shows up in just about every category,” she said.

Monk fruit appears in over 20% of products that contain natural non-nutritive sweeteners. Allulose has risen to above 10% from under 5% in 2019.

“We are seeing some activity now with allulose,” Ms. Dornblaser said.

Consider the onset of sweetness

Howtian, based in China, recently introduced DGS Sweet E100 and DGS Sweet F100 Baking that are one-to-one drop-in replacements for sugar, especially in applications that need bulk, according to the company. Both sweeteners blend stevia leaf extract with other sweeteners and natural flavors to replicate the taste profile of sugar.

“The key differentiator is that the E100 contains erythritol while the F100 contains fiber,” said Hank Wang, technical director for Howtian. “There are also differences in the composition of each, which impact their maximum FDA GRAS use levels depending upon the intended food or beverage application.”

E100 works better in applications that do not require as much browning or spread. The erythritol in E100 holds less moisture than allulose.

“So when used in baking, batters or doughs made with E100 will tend to be more firm compared to baking applications with F100,” Mr. Wang said.

F100 works better in baked foods applications that benefit from having browning or spread since it contains more allulose than E100.

“Allulose behaves similar to sugar in that it undergoes Maillard browning, which is the reaction of heat with sugar to produce a brown color and taste,” Mr. Wang said “Raw dough or batter made with F100 will be slightly stickier and softer, but it holds well with other binding agents. Binding agents help hold all the ingredients in a formulation together so it is not too crumbly, playing a big role in contributing to the texture you know and expect in a baked good. As such, F100 applications will yield a softer crumb.”

Allulose and erythritol work well with stevia in that they provide a more upfront sweetness compared to stevia’s delayed onset of sweetness.

“In synergy, these sweeteners combine to better replicate the sweetness intensity and timing of sugar’s taste profile — with stevia producing the greater intensity while allulose and erythritol offer the more immediate sweetness,” Mr. Wang said. “Allulose and erythritol also complement stevia well because they can act as bulking agents that make up for the missing volume from reducing or replacing sugar.”

Brazzein on the horizon

Sweegen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., a stevia-based sweetener supplier, this year introduced Ultratia brazzein, a high-intensity sweetener that is 500 to 1,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. Brazzein has little to no bitter aftertaste and helps prevent a lingering sweetness, according to the company.

“Brazzein is going to, in the long run, allow a level of sweet intensity that right now the more traditional natural-nutritive sweeteners have not been able to achieve, and it’s going to do it at a price-point that is going to be competitive with the commodity-based sweeteners,” said Casey McCormick, head of global innovation at Sweegen, in a July 12 presentation at IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and exposition held in Chicago.

Brazzein is a naturally occurring peptide found in the oubli fruit grown in western Africa, he said. Sweegen is working on gaining self-affirmed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for brazzein as a sweetener. It may work better when combined with other sweeteners in blends.

“Pairing brazzein with our stevia Rebaudiosides is a one plus one equals two and a half,” Mr. McCormick said.

More sweetener options

Icon Foods, Portland, Ore., offers a bakers blend that has been shown to reduce added sugars by 100%. Monk fruit and stevia in the blend complement each other, as in the onset of sweetness, said Thom King, chief executive officer of Icon Foods. Allulose functions much like sugar, but it has a lower burn temperature than sugar. Erythritol helps offset the burning.

A beverage blend works well in acidified beverages.

“It wouldn’t work well in dairy since the beverage blend is acidified, but for any kind of fruit-flavored or cola-flavored RTD this is a plug-and-play,” Mr. King said. “Simply add flavor, compounds and water, still or carbonated.”

Icon Foods is working on future versions that will have a higher pH for flavored dairy drinks.

Cargill, Minneapolis, offers EverSweet + ClearFlo that has a sweetness profile closer to sucrose when compared to other steviol glycoside sweeteners, especially when used at higher levels, said Smaro Kokkinidou, PhD, principal food scientist for Cargill.

“At the same time, it helps manage off-flavors from other ingredients used in formulation, including earthy and beany notes from plant-based proteins, bitterness from caffeine or vitamins, or metallic tastes from potassium chloride or other minerals,” she said. “In addition, it enhances characterizing flavor profiles, including light, fruity notes and rich chocolatey tones. That’s a significant advantage over most flavor modifiers and maskers, which tend to mute all the flavors in a system.”

The ingredient combines EverSweet, which has Reb M and Reb D steviol glycosides, and ClearFlo natural flavor. It works across categories and platforms, said Carla Saunders, senior marketing manager for high-intensity sweeteners for Cargill.

“Of note, our applications work has found EverSweet + ClearFlo brings a host of benefits to no-sugar-added energy and vitamin drinks, where it helps manage some of the off flavors often associated with these products,” she said. “We’ve also found it’s an especially good fit for plant-based protein smoothies and no-sugar-added milk chocolate products, as the sweetener system results in a more creamy, indulgent product than other no-sugar-added sweetener solutions. We’ve also seen great impact in sauces like barbecue and ketchup, with EverSweet + ClearFlo delivering on both sugar and sodium reduction.”

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., featured steviol glycoside sweeteners and allulose at SupplySide West. A cherry beet beverage created for digestive health contained PureCircle Reb M (a steviol glycoside) from a bioconversion method that mimics the plant’s natural production process and saves on costs. A protein-enhanced blueberry lemon baked breakfast bar contained Astraea brand allulose.