Innovative twists on sweetening dairy products

by Donna Berry
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Chocolate milk
By manipulating sweeteners, dairy product manufacturers may reduce added sugars and lower calories.

CHICAGO — Milk’s nutrient profile makes dairy products attractive foods for providing sustained energy and curbing appetite. By manipulating sweeteners, which are vital to taste and texture, it is possible to reduce added sugars and lower calories, making the foods even more attractive to label-reading consumers.

Sweetener content and form matters, according to research commissioned by Morris Plains, N.J.-based Beneo in early 2016. A study of 1,000 U.S. consumers showed that along with looking for foods that are natural, clean label and nutritious, consumers pay close attention to the types and levels of sweetener in foods.

More than half of the consumers polled said they try to curb their sugar intake. Key reasons cited behind this objective included healthy diet (58%), weight management (56%), as well as tooth decay and diabetes (37% and 28%, respectively). On the other hand, respondents said they were not prepared to completely forego sugar, with taste being the No. 1 reason.

Before formulators remove and replace added sugars with other sweeteners, it is paramount to understand the many functions sugar performs in dairy applications.

Reducing sugar
More than half of consumers polled say they try to curb their sugar intake.

“Sugar is a very complex ingredient that provides more than sweetness,” said John Martin, senior global technical director, PureCircle, Oak Brook, Ill. “In dairy products, functional properties include mouthfeel, taste, reduction of freezing point and water-binding. Sugar is also a key component to the firmness of dairy products impacting the flow and thermal characteristics (viscosity, osmolality, water mobility, freezing point depression, etc.) during and after processing.”

There are many sweeteners to choose from. None taste or behave exactly like sugar.

“Replacing sugar with a single ingredient is unlikely to yield the anticipated result,” said Thom King, chief executive officer, Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore. “Blending sweeteners will increase the potential for success.”

Many high-intensity sweeteners deliver an upfront sweetness, but they may linger, which is not what you get with sugar. Thus, high-intensity sweeteners alone do not mimic sugar sweetness, especially in flavored milk.

Ice cream
Sugar plays a key role in texture and the overall quality of ice cream.

With ice cream and similar frozen desserts, sugar plays a role in texture and overall quality.

“By depressing the freezing point of ice cream mixes, higher sugar content can produce smaller ice crystals in the freezing process,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “This influence on crystallization, coupled with its influence on mix viscosity, helps deliver a desirable smooth and creamy texture and a more ‘scoopable’ ice cream.”

It is up to the developer to balance the sweetness of the product with the freezing point of the ice cream.

“Out-of-balance formulations will lead to defective ice cream,” said Jonathan Hopkinson, senior applications scientist, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, Kas. “Too high a freezing point and the ice cream freezes too hard and too low it will freeze soft.”

Yogurt with toppings
In yogurt, sugar’s roles are to sweeten and add solids (mouthfeel) to the base, as well as the flavorful add-ins.

Sugar is also a critical component of many flavorful ingredients added to ice cream. Sugar exerts the same freezing point depression and helps keep ingredients malleable when frozen.

In yogurt, sugar’s roles are to sweeten and add solids (mouthfeel) to the base, as well as the flavorful add-ins. With the latter, in some instances, sugar may contribute to crunch or other textural attributes.

“Generally consumers who purchase yogurt are very interested in natural sweetness, real food and clean labels, and they are not willing to sacrifice flavor,” said Allan Buck, director-technical service for food ingredients, Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.

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