Less sugar per scoop, but same taste and texture

by Jeff Gelski
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Ice cream scoops
Sugar reduction in ice cream may depend upon the right mixture of bulk sweeteners and high-intensity sweeteners.
 

KANSAS CITY —  A brand featuring reduced sugar has moved to the top of the ice cream category, and other frozen food manufacturers have introduced ice cream varieties with reduced sugar as well. Successful new products may depend upon manufacturers finding the right combination of bulk sweeteners and high-intensity sweeteners from ingredient suppliers.

Halo Top ice cream, which has sugar content ranging from 5 grams to 8 grams per serving, contains organic stevia, erythritol, prebiotic fiber and organic cane sugar as sweeteners. Halo Top Creamery, Los Angeles, points to data from Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, showing Halo Top was the best-selling ice cream brand in U.S. grocery stores in the four weeks ended Sept. 10.

Halo Top has taken away ice cream market share from Unilever, P.L.C., said Graeme D. Pitkethly, chief financial officer and executive director of London-based Unilever, in an Oct. 19 earnings call. Unilever in response has launched Breyers delights reduced-sugar ice cream that uses erythritol, soluble corn fiber, sugar and Rebaudioside A from stevia as its sweeteners. Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co., meanwhile, has introduced Simple Truth Low Cow Lite Ice Cream with such sweeteners as sugar, erythritol, chicory root fiber, maltitol, monk fruit extract and steviol glycosides from stevia.

Halo Top ice cream, rainbow swirl
Halo Top ice cream contains organic stevia, erythritol, prebiotic fiber and organic cane sugar as sweeteners.
 

Erythritol and inulin frequently serve as bulking agents in reduced-sugar ice cream. Stevia and monk fruit often are chosen as high-intensity sweeteners.

The number of food and beverage products launched containing stevia increased 13% in the second quarter of this year versus the comparable period in 2016, according to data from Mintel Group Ltd. commissioned by PureCircle Ltd. It is common to see stevia used in ice cream applications with a 50% sugar reduction, said John Martin, senior director, global technical innovation at PureCircle, which has a U.S. office in Oak Brook, Ill.

“With these more significant sugar reductions, the high-purity steviol glycosides need to be complemented with a bulking agent to compensate for the functionality aspects of sugar,” he said.

PureCircle Sigma Dairy is formulated to work in a range of dairy applications, including ice cream.

“Typically, we find successful ice cream applications will feature a blend of multiple glycosides, which is tailored specifically to the flavor and needs of the product,” Mr. Martin said. “Usually in dairy there is a bit of a delayed sweetness, which is something PureCircle takes into consideration when we are formulating for these types of products.”

Product developers easily may achieve a 25% to 30% reduction in sugar when combining erythritol and stevia, said Ravi Nana, polyols technical service manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill.

“That’s enough to make a reduced-sugar label claim yet still deliver an ice cream treat that consumers will rave about,” he said. “Deeper reductions are possible. The key is landing on the right sweetener blend.”

When formulators take sugar out of ice cream, they lose not only the sweet taste but also functional properties that dictate texture, mouthfeel and consistency.

“In ice cream, sugar is what lowers the freezing point and prevents the formation of large ice crystals, creating that smooth, silky texture expected in a premium ice cream,” Mr. Nana said.

Erythritol may fill that void.

“Because of its small molecular size (about one-third that of sugar), erythritol produces a threefold freezing point depression factor,” he said. “That higher effect on freezing point depression helps soften reduced-sugar ice creams, creating the scoop-able texture consumers crave.”

Cargill’s Zerose erythritol, which is about 65% as sweet as sugar, may be paired with the company’s ViaTech stevia sweetener.

Reduced-sugar and reduced-fat foods historically have struggled in achieving the right taste, texture and flavor because sugar and fat add the taste, bulk and mouthfeel that consumers expect, said Mark Rainey, vice-president of global food marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.

“Sugar is typically 15% to 25% of the ice cream’s weight,” he said. “So that has to be replaced with other bulking agents and sweetening systems. Other ingredients may also need to be layered in to add back mouthfeel or texture or adjust taste.”

ADM offers both stevia and monk fruit sweetener systems as well as Fruit Up, a naturally sourced sweetener extracted from fruit that is compatible with many systems, Mr. Rainey said.

A chocolate mint ice cream product, which contained stevia, monk fruit and the soluble fiber ingredient Fibersol, was featured in June in Las Vegas at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition. ADM/Matsutani, L.L.C., a joint venture between ADM, Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. and Matsutani America, Inc., offers Fibersol.

“The mint flavor helped balance the stevia and monk fruit and paired nicely with the chocolate,” Mr. Rainey said. “Using all of these ingredients as a system, we were able to develop a great-tasting, no-sugar-added ice cream product that also provided the added benefit of fiber.”

Cargill, Beneo and Sensus all offer inulin/chicory root extracts. Chicory root fiber may be used to reduce sugar by 30% or more in ice cream applications by improving texture and adding sweetness, said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager for Sensus America, Inc., which is based in Lawrenceville, N.J. Chicory root fiber also may replace added sugars.

“Chicory root fiber can be up to 65% as sweet as sugar,” Mr. Turowski said. “So it may be necessary to utilize high-intensity sweeteners to make up for the sweetness that is lost by replacing sugar.”

Inulin/chicory root fiber ingredients come in different chain lengths related to the degree of polymerization of fructans. Sensus offers both Frutafit inulin and Frutalose oligofructose with different chain lengths.

“Research has shown that a combination of chain lengths often works best,” Mr. Turowski said. “So a mixture of our Frutalose and Frutafit is often the best solution. Short-chain components are effective at depressing the freezing point for proper ice crystal formation while the long-chain components provide additional benefits to the texture and mouthfeel.”

A “rare sugar” called allulose may be used to reduce calories, but not sugar, in ice cream. Allulose, also scientifically referred to as “D-psicose,” is a monosaccharide and a rare sugar, one of about 50 that exist in nature, according to Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. Ltd., which is based in Japan. Matsutani offers allulose under the Astraea brand while Tate & Lyle, P.L.C., London, offers it under the Dolcia Prima brand.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers allulose an added sugar even though it is about 0.2 calories per gram, which compares to conventional sugar at 4 calories per gram.

“Under current regulations, ice cream manufacturers who are formulating with allulose cannot claim ‘reduced sugar’ on their labels,” said Hideki Fujihara, manager of R.&D. for Matsutani Chemical Industry. “Instead, potential use of allulose would be more for calorie reduction.”

Like sugar, allulose has bulking, browning and sweetening properties.

“Allulose can act as a bulking agent,” Mr. Fujihara said. “So the reduction of sucrose and calories can be achieved at the level of 30% to 50% reduction. However, if ice cream manufacturers want to further reduce the use of sucrose, they may need to combine allulose with other bulking agents. Levels of sweetness will be reduced, and other sources of sweeteners might be needed within this level of replacement, like use of high-intensity sweeteners.”

Allulose masks some unwanted flavors of milk and egg, he said. If the ice cream uses milk or egg in its application, then the ingredient would be of assistance.

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