Alternatively Sweet

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Making a sugar replacer work like sugar is only half the trick when formulating low- and no-sugar products that boast low glycemic index ratings. The other part is making the finished product look and taste good to meet consumer expectations, and that’s paramount. Product formulators may struggle to achieve such goals, but ingredient suppliers answer these needs with alternate sweeteners and blends suited to baked foods.


Obviously, sweeteners sweeten foods, but they fill other functional roles, especially in baked products. Hilary Hursh, food and nutrition scientist, Orafti, Malvern, PA, observed that successful formulation of low-sugar baked foods requires replacing both the sweetness and bulk of sugar. John Curry, vice-president, business development, Sweetener Solutions, LLC, Savannah, GA, confirmed this fact, saying, "The biggest hurdle for bakers in formulating low-sugar or no-sugar items is where sugar plays the role of bulking agent as well as a sweetening agent."

Further, as explained by Lori Napier, manager food applications, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL, sugar’s functionality extends to qualities of solubility, crystallization, impact on water activity, texturizing characteristics, browning and impact on the gelatinization of flour. Debra Bryant, technical director, Palatinit of America, Morris Plains, NJ, added that mouthfeel and taste, too, must be considered.

"It is clearly a challenge to mimic the many functionalities of the sugar in baked foods while making a product with non-sucrose ingredients," said Philippe Caillat, food market developer, Roquette, Lestrem, France. A traditional cookie contains an average of 20 to 25% sucrose, he explained, and the sugar not only acts as a bulking agent but also provides sweetness, color and appropriate texture. "These characteristics are key to formulating high-quality, low-sugar baked foods," he noted.

"The biggest concern is to maintain the quality of what people expect the product to look and taste like," said Wendy Erickson, senior food scientist specializing in baking at Cargill, Inc., Cedar Rapids, IA. "It is difficult to find adequate substitutes for sugar in baked foods because sugar affects softness, sweetness, pan flow and other factors. It is hard to duplicate these effects with polyols or other sugar substitutes alone."

Putting alternate sweeteners to work in baked foods requires a fine sense of balance. There is the matter of the difference in physical volume, according to Sarah Babb, senior national marketing manager for Equal at Merisant, Chicago, IL. "When using alternative sweeteners, the amount required to achieve the same sweetness as sugar is much smaller, so formulators must find ingredients to make up the mass that sugar once filled," she explained.

"A variety of high-intensity sweeteners exist," Ms. Hursh noted, "but replacing bulk while maintaining a desirable texture is more difficult. The soluble fibers inulin and oligofructose help to replace the bulk of sugar while having minimum impact on water absorption, texture, flavor or processing characteristics."

Characteristics of alternate sweeteners and bulking agents must match product needs. Ms. Napier described a 2-pronged approach. "Sweetness is built through use of high-intensity sweeteners and some sugar alcohols," she said. "The right combination of ingredients is essential to delivering a low- or nosugar-added baked food that will be acceptable to consumers. Combinations of sugar alcohols, polydextrose and maltodextrins can create the right textures and eating experiences."

Also, formulators must be sure that finished products meet labeling rules. "In the United States, you cannot make the specific claim of ‘low sugar,’ only ‘sugar free,’ ‘no added sugar’ or ‘reduced sugar,’" said Donna Brooks, marketing manager, Danisco Sweeteners, Ardsley, NY. Food and Drug Administration regulations state that foods termed "sugar free" must restrict sugar in the finished product to less than 0.5 g per reference amount, while "reduced sugar" products must have at least 25% less sugar than reference amounts of a comparable food.

"The biggest hurdle is to create a baked food that has the perfect appearance, texture and flavor," she said.


Production of reduced-sugar baked foods has its own set of challenges. "In most cases, sucrose can be replaced with alternative sweeteners without process changes, but the key is selecting the optimal alternative ingredients," Ms. Brooks said.

"Depending on the sugar substitute used, there are sometimes minor modifications in processing conditions; however, reduced-sugar or low-sugar baked foods can be made on standard equipment," Mr. Caillat stated.

A new family of sweetener blends addresses this matter by offering 1:1 replacement of sugar, according to Ms. Erickson. "One of the parameters of product development at Cargill was that there would be no changes in processing equipment or formulation at bakeries."

Of course, there’s the matter of accurate scaling. "Universally, most bakers will find that measuring will be a much more precise process when using alternative sweeteners because of their concentration and the small amounts needed for production," Ms. Babb pointed out.

Ms. Brooks offered a practical example involving pound cake that demonstrated both the replacement of sugar’s bulk and the difference between reduced sugar and no-sugar applications. The basic formula contains 25.8% sucrose along with flour, water, egg, fat, milk powder, baking powder and salt. "If you want a reduced-sugar claim, some of the sucrose must be replaced with either lactitol or xylitol to achieve a 25% reduction compared with the standard baked product," she explained. "If a no-sugar claim is desired, then I recommend replacement of all the sugar with 5.2% Litesse polydextrose, 20.54% lactitol and 0.06% acesulfame-K as a starting point."

Use of inulin and oligofructose do not require drastic processing and equipment changes, according to Ms. Hursh. "These ingredients are easily incorporated in the same manner as sugar and do not absorb water like many other fibers."

"Other important considerations are packaging requirements and finished products," said Bill Riha, Ph.D., head of technical and regulatory affairs, Nutrinova, Inc., Somerset, NJ, adding that marketers may also have to overcome consumers’ preconceived notions of the quality of reduced-sugar products.


Ingredient solutions for cutting sugar — and glycemic index ratings — include high-intensity sweeteners, polyols (also termed sugar alcohols), fiberlike inulin and oligofructose as well as polydextrose. Food ingredient suppliers continue to expand the menu of such materials with new GRAS notifications and applications work.

Consider Equal, a blend of aspartame for sweetness and dextrose and/ or maltodextrin for ease of use. In addition, Merisant also produces Equal Custom Blend, a concentrated product specifically formulated for products making the no-sugar claim, according to Ms. Babb. "Each of Equal’s products has a clean, sweet flavor that does not add an aftertaste or off flavors to baked products," she said. Long popular as a consumer sweetener, it is available commercially in bulk quantities ranging from 1-lb boxes to 25-kg lined drums.

"The best way to solve the challenges associated with reformulating a product from full sugar to reduced- or low-sugar is to develop a relationship with your supplier and work directly with its technical team," Ms. Babb continued. "No one knows the nuances of the alternative sweetener better than the company manufacturing it, so use it as a close resource when developing a product using their ingredient."

By blending the high-intensity sweetener neotame with maltodextrins, Sweetener Solutions created Maltotame, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar. "Our company has worked with bakery customers to reduce 10% of sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup in baked foods by using Maltotame," Mr. Curry explained. "It yields an almost identical finished product and allows the customer to realize significant sweetener cost savings."

Much excitement currently centers on sucralose, an alternative sweetener made from sugar and approved a few years ago for food use in the US. It is available from Tate & Lyle, which makes Splenda sucralose under an agreement with Mc-Neil Nutritionals, Fort Washington, PA. "Ingredients such as Splenda sucralose and Sta-Lite III polydextrose are core ingredients for low- and no-sugar-added baked foods," Ms. Napier said.

To assist formulators in removing part or all of the sugar from products, Tate & Lyle introduced several ingredient systems, "optimized to deliver the eating characteristics found in full-sugar products," according to Ms. Napier. For example, Rebalance System 33 for cereal bars allows a 25 to 40% reduction in sugar and 33% reduction in total carbohydrates. "It contains specialty wheat proteins and Splenda sucralose, is friendly to snackbar manufacturing and may be used to produce bars that offer healthier choices without compromise in flavor," she said.

Earlier this year, high demand for sucralose resulted in tight supplies for the popular ingredient. For bakers seeking a 1:1 replacement for sucralose, Mr. Curry recommended SucraSweet HIS 600, a patent-pending blend of sweeteners containing neotame. "It is a direct replacement for, and functions identically to, sucralose in baked foods," he said and suggested use of this ingredient in other low- or reduced-sugar foods "that have already solved the bulking issue."

Polyols are often the first choice for sugar substitutes in baked foods. "Polyols have synergistic effects with sweeteners including other polyols, sucrose, dextrose and fructose," observed Rick Francolino, applications scientist, SPI Polyols, New Castle, DE. "They allow a reduced-sugar claim while bringing out better product flavors compared with use of ‘extreme’ products."

Among the polyols is Isomalt, a sugarfree bulk sugar-replacer exclusively derived from sucrose and available from Palatinit. "It can be used to replace crystalline sugar in combination with a noncrystallizing agent such as glucose, thus delivering an end product that is low in sugar but good tasting," said Ms. Bryant. It resists chemical degradation and does not caramelize or discolor during melting, extrusion or baking. It differs from other polyols because it does not provide any atypical cooling effect in baked foods, according to Ms. Bryant.

The company introduced a new ingredient, Palatinose, with the same energy value of traditional sugars. "Unlike traditional sugars, however, Palatinose is also very low glycemic and low insuliemic," Ms. Bryant said.

There’s also the matter of tolerance when using sugar alternatives. A number of polyols, while functional in foods, are not well tolerated by the body, especially when consumed in quantity. "We tried a different approach," Ms. Erickson said of SweetDesign, a family of sweetener systems introduced this year. Built around erythritol and containing a number of sweetening, stabilizing and texturing ingredients, the systems are blended according to formulation needs. Erythritol also offers a significant calorie savings: 1.7 Kcal per g vs. 2.1 for maltitol. "And it has a better flavor profile," said Ms. Erickson. A natural product, erythritol is also available from Cargill in organic-certified form.

"To achieve a truer, more sugar-like taste, manufacturers have adopted blends of high-potency sweeteners," Dr. Riha said. "Nutrinova’s Sunett acesulfame-K has a fast onset of sweetness that drops off quickly. This contrasts well to both aspartame and sucralose, which have a delayed onset and lingering sweetness. By blending acesulfame-K and sucralose, a sweetness profile more similar to sugar is achieved."

Also recommended for sugar substitutions is a combination of Maltisorb maltitol and Nutriose soluble fiber, both from Roquette. "They easily replace sucrose in many food applications," Mr. Caillat said. "The two ingredients, used alone or combined, provide outstanding nutritional benefits, which respond to the demands of the health food consumer without compromising taste and pleasure."

Inulin and oligofructose are soluble fibers that can be used to replace the bulk of sugar, "while also improving flavor," according to Ms. Hursh. "These ingredients also have a synergy with high-intensity sweeteners, both allowing lower usage levels of high-priced sweeteners and masking off flavors." Because they aid in Maillard browning reactions, they contribute both color and flavor that may be lacking in reduced-sugar foods, she added.

In the quest for the perfect no-, low- or reduced-sugar formulation, bakers have many alternatives to sugar. How they use them makes all the difference.





Ingredient systems incorporating sucralose are optimized to deliver the eating characteristics found in full-sugar products.

Tate & Lyle






Chocolate cheesecake gets a low-sugar makeover when formulated with a "sweetener solution" blend built around erythritol and containing sweetening, stabilizing and texturing ingredients.







A polyol sweetener that replaces sugar’s bulk as well as its sweetness and does not caramelize or discolor during baking suits the needs of cookies and other baked foods.







Muffins sweetened with an aspartame-based sugar-replacer blend appeal to consumers wanting to reduce the amount of sugar they consume.

Equal, Merisant

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