Removing sugar while keeping the sweetness

by Donna Berry
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Despite most nutrition and health surveys suggesting consumers are making an active effort to reduce their intake of added sugars, many in the food industry oppose the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed required declaration of added sugars to the Nutrition Facts Panel.

“Because there is no chemical or physiological difference between added and inherent sugars, including added sugars on the label will not impart useful information to consumers,” the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, said in its comments to the F.D.A.

Yet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing caloric intake from added sugars and solid fats because they are associated with less nutrient-rich foods and may increase overall caloric intake. In fact, added sugars provide no additional nutrient value and often are referred to as empty calories.

Further, on average, Americans receive 16% of their total calories from added sugars, with the major sources being soda, energy and sports drinks, grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dairy-based desserts and candy, in descending order. Including added sugars on the new Nutrition Facts Panel would allow consumers who want to limit their added sugar intake to compare various brands of similar products, the F.D.A. said.

“Sugar has been getting a lot of negative press,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist and application manager of fermented milk and probiotics, cultures and enzymes for
Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee. “More and more consumers have been actively trying to reduce consumption of sugars and carbs and they do so by reading labels.

“Milk naturally contains around 5% of sugar in the form of lactose. Most consumers do not know that. Finding 12 grams of sugar — all of it lactose — in 6 oz of plain yogurt is normal but can be unappealing to some consumers. Thus, labeling of added sugar could be very useful for dairy.”

Ivan Gonzales, dairy marketing director for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., agreed the dairy industry would benefit from the inclusion of an added sugars line.

“It is all about being trans-parent to consumers and helping them to make an informed decision when reading labels,” he said.

If the F.D.A. does finalize the requirement to declare added sugars the I.D.F.A. has requested that lactose and milk ingredients containing lactose, such as dried milk, concentrated milk and whey, not be included in the added sugars definition.

The proposed requirement presents an opportunity to reformulate dairy foods to lower added sugars. It is being done — often discretely — and there are many ingredient technologies available to assist.

“With a growing number of young Americans facing issues with obesity, diabetes and other health issues related to weight management, manufacturers of dairy products are embracing sugar-reduction technologies in order to provide consumers with better-for-you, nutrient-dense dairy foods,” said Corrie Reilly, marketing and communications for Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, Wis. “This is particularly true with flavored milk, fruited yogurt and ice cream products sold in schools.”

Enhancing sweetness

An innovative approach to reducing added sugars is to manipulate the inherent lactose, which is a relatively non-sweet disaccharide. Its sweetness index is 16, with sucrose being 100. When lactose is broken down by the lactase enzyme into its constituent monosaccharides, glucose and galactose, its sweetness is increased approximately three-fold.

“Lactase enzyme technology allows formulators to unleash the natural sweetness of lactose while simultaneously producing a lactose-free product, which brings additional value by appealing to those consumers avoiding lactose,” said Drew Smith, manager of product and application development with DSM Food Specialties USA Inc., South Bend, Ind.

Ms. Curic-Bawden said, “It is important to emphasize that sweetness obtained from lactose is not enough to fully replace added sugars or sweeteners, but it allows for a reduction of added sugar.”

For example, if lactase is used in combination with a yogurt culture with mild flavor and low acidity, adding around 5% to 6% sugar to the formula delivers sufficient sweetness, as compared to non-lactase-treated milk, where the formula would call for about 7% to 7.5% added sugar.

“We have found that adding a trace amount of natural high-intensity sweeteners such as stevia and luo han guo can enhance the sweet flavor profile of lactose without increasing added sugars,” said Thom King, president, Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore.

Another sugar-reduction technology uses invertase enzyme and works much the same way as lactase.

“Invertase breaks down sucrose into its constituent monosaccharides: glucose and fructose,” Mr. Smith said. “This is called invert sugar. Depending on the finished product, sucrose may be completely or partially broken down by invertase. Determining how much sucrose to break down is related to the desired sweetness intensity, including whether the sweetness perception should be immediately intense and short lived or less intense but linger. The presence of other ingredients in the formula, such as fruit, may mask or enhance the sweetness.”

DSM Food Specialties has developed a chocolate milk using both lactase and invertase.

“The lactase enzyme releases the natural sweetness of the lactose in the milk without increasing the calories of the milk base,” Mr. Smith said. “A chocolate syrup produced with invert sugar made by invertase can lead to a further reduction of added sugar and calories.”

The exact sugar reduction will depend on the individual formulation, amount of chocolate and such other ingredients as stabilizers.

“The application of these enzymes is flexible with respect to process requirements and necessitate very little, if any, capital improvements at the manufacturer in order to achieve the benefits,” Mr. Smith said.

A clean and indulgent taste of sweet also may assist with sugar reduction.

“Product developers must consider the entire formula,” said Mike Homewood, vice-president of ingredient sales for Agropur Ingredients. “Other ingredients can enhance flavors and the perception of sweet, allowing for a reduction of all added sweeteners, nutritive and non-nutritive.

“We offer a proprietary ingredient that balances flavors and dulls the harsh characteristics of certain sweeteners. The technology involves isolating compounds from milk and concentrating them into an ingredient that provides the creaminess and delectability of cream but without the fat. This enhances product mouthfeel, which we refer to as ‘yumminess,’ improving the dairy product’s overall taste and allowing for a reduction in sugar in milk-based beverages and frozen desserts.”

The ingredient appears on statements as “dairy product solids,” making it clean label friendly.

MycoTechnology Inc., Denver, developed a patent-pending processing platform to remove taste defects from foods.

“Our process can remove bitterness from chocolate, so sugar is no longer needed for masking, only sweetening,” said Alan Hahn, chief executive officer and founder. “When evaluating our chocolate in flavored milk, we were able to use 50% to 80% less sugar and achieve a similar taste profile to a full-sugar milk made with standard chocolate.”

The technology is a fermentation process leveraging unique strains of fungi that have been trained to consume targeted molecules in foods associated with bitterness.

“We also use this technology combined with enzymes to remove the bitter metallic aftertaste associated with stevia,” Mr. Hahn said. “This makes stevia more applicable for delicate flavor systems such as dairy.”

Sweetener options

Sweetness-enhancing technologies may assist with reducing added sugars, as can the use of alternative sweeteners, those ingredients that exert sweetness but do not chemically qualify as sugar.

“We offer a broad range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweetener solutions that often times can be used together for a synergistic sweetening effect, allowing for a reduction in added sugars,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Our Dial-In Sweetness technology includes a trained sensory panel to help our customers meet their sugar-reduction goals.”

This technology is a data-based driven approach to help reach sugar-reduction goals faster without compromising sweetness intensity or sweetness profile.

“One key challenge when working on sugar reduction is the impact it has on the overall texture of the final product,” Mr. Gonzales added. “We have texture technologies that complement our sweetener platform to overcome this challenge.”

Grace Kim, senior application scientist with PureCircle Ltd., Oak Brook, Ill., said bulking ingredients must be integrated into reduced-sugar dairy formulations.

“Since sugar provides texture and weight to a product, other bulking ingredients must be integrated into the system,” she said. “Common bulk sugar replacers are sugar alcohols, complex carbohydrates and maltodextrin.”

Mr. King added, “The presence or absence of other ingredients may magnify or mute sweetener tendencies. When certain sweeteners are used in tandem, their value exceeds their solo contribution. Making the most of synergies optimizes flavor while lowering the use levels, ultimately reducing costs.

“We have had great success in reducing added sugars up to 90% and reducing overall sugars by 50% in flavored dairy products. This is without the use of chemical-based sweetening systems, thus delivering clean label statements.”

Steviva Ingredients offers a sweetener that is a combination of crystalline fructose, fructooligosaccharides, stevia and magnesium carbonate.

“It delivers a brilliant flavor profile with no aftertaste and a mouthfeel identical to sugar,” Mr. King said. “For the greatest sugar reduction, we recommend our proprietary blend of erythritol and stevia.”

To replace 42 DE (dextrose equivalent) high-fructose corn syrup, the company recently launched a stevia-fortified agave nectar that is four times sweeter than sugar and can deliver up to a 50% sugar reduction.

PureCircle takes a customized approach to formulating with stevia.

“Our experts identify the best combination of stevia glycosides and auxiliary ingredients to meet the sweetness profile for the final product,” Ms. Kim said. “We recently commercialized a number of new stevia sweeteners and natural flavors, enabling dairy product formulations to overcome the limitations of just rebaudioside A. Greater sugar and calorie reductions are now possible without compromising superior taste.”

Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Tate & Lyle entered the stevia market earlier this year with its proprietary version of the natural, zero-calorie sweetener.

“It has a clean, sweet taste and can achieve a 50% or more sugar reduction without any bitter aftertaste, even at higher usage levels,” said Rachel Wicklund, food scientist with Tate & Lyle. “There’s no need to use masking ingredients, which lowers the costs and complexity of formulation and leads to a simpler ingredient list.”

Stevia-based sweeteners are becoming the high-intensity sweetener of choice for sugar reduction, but getting to optimal sweetness levels can be challenging, said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for Cargill, Minneapolis. At SupplySide West in October, the company demonstrated a no-sugar-added chocolate milk made with its proprietary stevia-based sweetener.

“Previously in chocolate milk, a 25% reduction in sugar was feasible using traditional stevia sweeteners,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist at Cargill. “With its improved sweetness and flavor dynamics, our new stevia-based sweeteners can reduce the added sugar in chocolate milk to any degree desired, including zero, without impacting liking scores.”

Cargill’s taste-prediction model may precisely predict the combination of steviol glycosides to deliver optimal taste and sweetness in a specific application.

“Our portfolio enables customers to achieve greater sugar reduction in challenging applications while achieving optimal sweetness,” Ms. Stauffer said.

John Fry, principal consultant to Cargill, said, “Using our stevia-based sweeteners, along with erythritol and glycerin, we are able to make a no-sugar added ice cream containing only 7 grams of sugar per half-cup serving, compared to the standard 17 grams. In doing so, we cut the calorie count by nearly a quarter, without increasing the calories from fat.”

There’s another new sweetening option — advantame — available to formulators, which in early May was approved as a general-use sweetener.

“Advantame is a great sweetener for dairy applications because of its clean, sweet taste with no off-tastes along with its excellent flavor-enhancement properties, enhancing many flavors commonly used in dairy applications, such as vanilla, chocolate and many fruit flavors,” said Ihab Bishay, senior director of business development and application innovation with Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, Chicago. “It is a very cost-effective sweetener, has zero calories and is non-cariogenic. It can be blended with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup for partial sugar replacement to reduce cost and calories or with other high-potency sweeteners.”

The company also markets aspartame.

“Aspartame’s clean, sweet taste profile works very well within the dairy matrix and with flavors commonly used in dairy applications,” Mr. Bishay said. “It does not require complex technology to mask any off-tastes because it does not have any.”

There are a number of functional carbohydrates to assist with sugar reduction.

“For example, isomaltulose is the only fully, yet slowly digestible low-glycemic carbohydrate in the market,” said Joseph O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, N.J.

Derived from sucrose of the sugar beet, it provides balanced and prolonged energy and has a very mild natural taste without any aftertaste while also being tooth-friendly. Its sweetening power is approximately 50% of sucrose and may be adjusted with intense sweeteners.

“Isomalt is a sugar replacer made from pure beet sugar, which gives it a natural taste and sweetness while being kind to teeth,” Mr. O’Neill said. It only has half the calories of sugar and offers a low glycemic response.

“We also offer inulin and oligofructose, fructans derived from the chicory plant,” he said. “These prebiotic fibers have a mild sweet taste and are highly soluble.”

Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J., manufactures chicory root fiber.

“Some of these products are as high as 65% the sweetness of sugar, yet still contain at least 75% dietary fiber,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager. “Chicory root fiber is synergistic with high-intensity sweeteners and has masking properties to help provide a clean sweetness.”

Reducing sugar in dairy products has staying power, especially in products targeted to children, Mr. Turowski said.

“We may very well see this generation display a preference for the low-sugar products they are accustomed to as they become decision makers of their own,” he said.
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