Sweeteners on offense

by Jeff Gelski
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Supporters of both sweeteners have gone on the offensive this year, but their messages differ.

Suppliers of stevia-based sweeteners want to introduce U.S. consumers to the natural, zero-calorie high-intensity sweetener now that it’s cleared for use in foods and beverages. Many consumers already are familiar with about high-fructose corn syrup, but they may have a negative image. The Corn Refiners Association, Washington, in response has launched a campaign aiming to dispel the thought that HFCS is less healthy than all other sweeteners. Several scientific studies lend support to the C.R.A. in that they show HFCS and sugar have similar metabolic properties. Both stevia-based sweeteners and HFCS offer benefits in grain-based foods. Introducing stevia

Grain-based foods with stevia-based sweeteners may hit the market soon since the Food and Drug Administration in December said it had no questions about two petitions regarding the safety of using Rebaudioside A (rebiana), an extract from the stevia plant, in foods and beverages. Initial U.S. retail product launches with rebiana mostly were beverages, such as Sprite Green, but rebiana also may play a role in grain-based food applications, said Dr. Sidd Purkayastha, Ph.D., technical director for PureCircle USA Inc., Florham Park, N.J. Baked foods in Korea and Japan already include rebiana, he said. U.S. companies are experimenting with rebiana in cereal and oatmeal, he said. Cakes and coated nuts also show potential.

"All of them have some room for Reb A to provide the sweetness," Dr. Purkayastha said. Rebiana may work in pH ranges from 3 to 8. It is heat stable up to 200 degrees Centigrade (392 degrees Fahrenheit) in dry form. Because it is a high-intensity sweetener, rebiana will need to work in conjunction with bulking agents like maltodextrin or corn syrup solids. Inulin also works well with rebiana, Dr. Purkayastha said.

Formulators may need to add another sweetener, such as fructose, to bring an early onset of sweetness flavor. Other high-intensity sweeteners, especially acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), may add the early sweetness, but those ingredients may keep a product from being promoted as natural, Dr. Purkayastha said. Rebiana may give an undesirable, lingering taste if formulators use too much of it. Dr. Purkayastha said he recommended starting with a conservative amount.

"Baked foods are a little more forgiving," he said. "You have a much more concentrated system. There is less moisture and so on."

The price of rebiana should come down as supply ramps up. PureCircle is expanding a refinery in Malaysia that had an annual production capacity of 1,000 tonnes at the beginning of this year. The company currently grows most of its stevia plants in The People’s Republic of China and should increase its extraction capacity there by 75% this year, Dr. Purkayastha said.

"Ninety per cent of the stevia leaves come from China right now, but we don’t want to rely solely on China," he said. PureCircle plans to diversify and grow stevia plants in Kenya, Vietnam, Paraguay and Laos. PureCircle may start using stevia leaves from Kenya and Paraguay either late this year or early next year. "We foresee the price coming down at least 60% in two or three years," Dr. Purkayastha said. "The goal is to become cheaper than sugar, according to sweetness equivalent."

He said a conservative estimate has PureCircle’s rebiana at 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means it would take 200 grams of sugar to obtain the sweetness equivalent of 1 gram of rebiana. G.L.G. Life Tech Corp., Vancouver, B.C., has increased its supply of stevia-based sweeteners, too. The company completed a 1,000-tonne stevia line in 2008, which increased stevia extract capacity by 400%. As more supply of stevia-based sweeteners becomes available, so do flavor systems designed for them. PureCircle will roll out flavor systems across food and beverage applications through a global strategic collaboration with Firmenich.

Cargill, Minneapolis, has developed flavor systems for rebiana that may work in several food and beverage applications, including cereal. Cargill will showcase its rebiana-compatible flavor solutions at "Best of Food Thinking 2009," the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition scheduled for June 6-9 in Anaheim, Calif. Cargill submitted a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) filing to the F.D.A. on May 15, 2008, that sought the use of Rebaudioside A purified form of Stevia rebaudiana as a general-purpose sweetener in foods, excluding meat and poultry products. The F.D.A. in December issued a letter of no objection to the company. Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y., has added a stevia-masking flavor to its line of Special Effects flavors.

The stevia-masking product overcomes bitterness caused by stevia and also deflects an unwanted lingering or clinging sweetness, said Catherine M. Armstrong, vice-president of marketing for Comax Flavors. Givaudan Flavours, Dubendorf, Switzerland, has identified and applied for patents related to its discovery of the bitter taste receptor triggered by Rebaudioside A. Understanding how Rebaudioside A activates bitterness in the mouth has enabled Givaudan to discover and develop flavor ingredients that specifically block this mechanism. Science sticks up for HFCS While formulators may seek to add stevia-based sweeteners to their products, the C.R.A. would like to see more grain-based foods companies go back to using high-fructose corn syrup. The C.R.A. has launched a multi-media advertising and public relations campaign to change the image of high-fructose corn syrup. Recent LabelTrends statistics from The Nielsen Co. reveal consumers are turning away from HFCS. U.S. sales of fresh bread promoted for being free of HFCS reached $62,962,700 for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 2008, up 177% from the previous 52 weeks. Sales of snacks such as health bars and sticks were $20,286,158, up 29%, and sales of granola and yogurt bars were $12,563,768, up 144%. The sales covered U.S. food/drug/mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Bentonville, Ark. The term "high-fructose" in high-fructose corn syrup apparently has hurt the sweetener’s image.

Scientific studies recently have examined products high in pure fructose, which is different from HFCS For example, the article "Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans" appeared on-line in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"These peer-reviewed papers expose the confusion about high-fructose corn syrup," said Audrae Erickson, president of the C.R.A. "It is a case of mistaken identity between two sweeteners. High-fructose corn syrup is not high in fructose, but rather has roughly half fructose and half glucose, just like sugar." A supplement to be published in the June issue of The Journal of Nutrition will address misconceptions about HFCS, Ms. Erickson said. The supplement will focus on "The State of the Science on Dietary Sweeteners Containing Fructose," a scientific summary of a joint conference held in March 2008 by the International Life Sciences Institute of North America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On June 8, an I.F.T. session will address HFCS and other sweeteners. Dr. John S. White, Ph.D., president and founder of White Technical Research, an international consulting firm in Argenta, Ill., will lead the session, which will explore how sucrose and HFCS give identical metabolic responses for metabolic markers of obesity.

"Academic researchers are coming to the conclusion there is no difference between HFCS and sugar," Ms. Erickson said.

In baking, HFCS offers several advantages, Dr. White said. It is a liquid alternative to sugar, which makes it easier to transport, unload and use in a manufacturing plant. HFCS may improve surface crust browning in bread and moisture retention in granola bars and nutrition bars. Cost is another consideration. The sweetener 42% HFCS wet, which is used often in baked foods, sold between 22.375c to 24.325c per lb on April 24. Prices for beet and cane sugar ranged from 33c to 35c per lb on the same date. While some have questioned the validity of calling HFCS a natural ingredient, the F.D.A. issued a statement on the issue last year.

After a common HFCS processing technique used by Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., was explained at a meeting, Geraldine June of the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) sent a letter to the C.R.A. dated July 3, 2008.

The letter read, "Because the glutaraldehyde (a synthetic agent) does not come into contact with the high dextrose corn starch hydrolysate, it would not be considered to be included in or added to the HFCS Therefore, we would not object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing the HFCS produced by the manufacturing process described . . ." Per-capita consumption of HFCS in the United States has decreased from 62.7 lbs in 2000 to 56.3 lbs in 2007, according to the U.S.D.A.’s Economic Research Service.

Sam Scott, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Corn Products International, Westchester, Ill., talked about HFCS in an earnings conference call April 28, 2009. "The data for the C.R.A. on HFCS was a little better than we thought it was going to be, to be honest with you," he said. "It was down for the first quarter. HFCS on 55 was off by about 1.5%, maybe 2%. And on 42, it was off just a little over 4%." Mr. Scott said he had confidence in the C.R.A. campaign. "The Corn Refiners Association now has come back to the plate with a campaign of its own," he said. "It is taking hold. We’ve been able to challenge some of the misstatements that have been made about the product."

Ingredient toolbox: sweeteners Sweeteners may provide functional properties and ways to reduce sugar in grain-based foods applications.

Here are a few examples:

BRIESSWEET SYRUPS AND SOLIDS BriesSweet brown rice syrups and solids from Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wis., may work as a bulking agent while providing a browning reaction, sweetness and viscosity in such applications as bars, baked foods, cereals, granola and crackers. Briess also offers BriesSweet tapioca syrups and solids.

"Because brown rice syrups contribute a characteristic, sometimes slightly buttery flavor and a touch of color, depending upon usage rates and application, they are often used in the production of bars, granola, cereal and grain-based snack foods," said Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing communications manager for Briess. "Brown rice syrup has small amounts of protein and fat and can supply some additional browning to baked goods."

RAISIN JUICE

Raisin juice may extend the shelf life of bread products by acting as a natural preservative as it sweetens and colors natural baked foods, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. Raisins are a source of antioxidants, potassium and fiber. They are low in sodium and free of fat and cholesterol.

XTEND SUCROMALT The Food and Drug Administration recently notified Cargill, Minneapolis, that it has no objection to an independent expert panel determining sucromalt is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in food. Cargill offers sucromalt under the Xtend brand. Sucromalt, derived from sucrose and maltose, provides the energy of glucose and fructose but with a lower glycemic response. Xtend sucromalt may be used in such products as cereal, cereal bars, trail mix, soft chews, yogurt, beverages, nutrition bars and meal replacement bars.

LITESSE POLYDEXTROSE

Litesse polydextrose may be used in the development of bread and sweet baked foods that are reduced in sugar and lower in calories, according to Danisco. Litesse, a prebiotic fiber, may be used to replace other carbohydrates such as flours, sugars and starches.

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