KANSAS CITY — Honey, maple syrup, oats and barley may sound like natural ingredients, welcome additions to any clean label formulation efforts. Yet working with sweeteners sourced from these raw materials is not so simple. Differences appear in growing regions, varieties and ingredient forms.

More than 3,000 varietals of honey are found worldwide, said Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board in Frederick, Colo.

“Honey is much more than a one-flavor carbohydrate source,” she said. “Within honey exists more than 180 different components, including multiple carbohydrates and acid types, water, minerals and organisms such as bacteria and yeast.

“Combined, all of these components give honey a complex flavor and thus adds complexity to bakery foods with honey. Yes, the flavor of honey is predominantly sweet, but this sweetness is balanced by tartness from acids.”

Honey may be uniquely flavorful based on the varietal of the ingredient, she said.

“Monofloral honeys, such as orange blossom, buckwheat or watermelon, give bakers the ability to impact specific flavor profiles on their finished bakery foods,” she said. “In monofloral varietals, honeybees predominantly visit one type of plant, and the nectar they pull from the flowers imparts a unique color, flavor and aroma on the honey.”

Color plays a role as well.

“In general, the darker the color of honey the more robust the flavor profile whereas lighter-colored honeys have more delicate and nuanced flavors,” Ms. Barry said. “If a baker is looking to impart a strong honey-like flavor to a product, a darker honey should be used to ensure it comes through a final product. In instances where sweetness plays a supporting role, lighter-colored honeys can shine without dominating a flavor profile.”

Honey acts as a natural shelf life extender as its fructose content helps bread hold in moisture, which reduces dryness and crumbliness of baked foods, she said. The acidity of honey, with an average pH of 3.91, also helps inhibit mold growth.

“Honey is used in all categories (of baked foods), but we’re seeing significant usage throughout bread and rolls,” Ms. Barry said. “In these products, manufacturers are trying to trim down their ingredient listing and clean up their labels. With honey, bakers can use a clean label sweetener that also helps extend shelf life. Plus, whole grain bread benefits from honey’s ability to smooth out the sometimes bitter flavor notes of whole grains.”

The National Honey Board cited a 2018 survey from Kerry Group PLC showing 94% of respondents perceived honey as a natural sweetening agent.

Honey also stood out in a 2018 global report on sweeteners from HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, Fla. Eighty-one per cent of respondents said honey was a good sweetener while 16% said it was neither good nor bad and 3% said it was a bad sweetener. Positive ratings were given to recognizable sweeteners like honey, fruit juices, maple syrup and coconut palm sugar. Less-recognized sweeteners like allulose, Rebaudioside A (a steviol glycoside), steviol glycosides and erythritol were rated as neutral by more than 65% of respondents.

Maple syrup

Sweet origins from Canada

A lesson in geography applies to another natural sweetener.

Canada produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup, and 91% of Canada’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec, said Scott Sievers, senior vice president of national accounts and marketing for Indiana Sugars, Gary, Ind.

“In the springtime, the Quebec region has the perfect temperatures to make the sap flow,” he said. “The nights need to get below freezing where water from the soil is absorbed into the tree. The daytime temps are about 40 degrees, which creates pressure in the tree that pushes the sap out of the tree. The trace elements in the soil help fortify the sap with minerals.”

Maple syrup, which is about 60% as sweet as syrup, provides a sweet, earthy taste, he said. It contains manganese, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc.

“Maple syrup and maple sugar are currently being formulated in bread recipes and high-end pastries,” Mr. Sievers said. “Maple is a great complement to nutty, artisan styles of baked goods.”

Indiana Sugars offers maple syrup, maple flakes and maple sugar.

Sweeteners may come in different forms. Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, NJ, offers oat extract sweeteners in liquid (20% moisture) and dry (3% moisture) versions, said Amy Targan, president of Malt Products Corp. (MPC). Both versions are derived from whole grain oats.

“Liquid and dry extracts are interchangeable based on application needs,” she said. “MPC’s liquid OatRite is easy to transport and is easier for manufacturing operations as it may be pumped into mixers, kettles and syrup. Liquids are preferred in applications where finished products are liquid or when coating, enrobing and moisture addition is desired in food products.”

Dry extracts deliver longer shelf life.

“MPC’s OatRite is more concentrated in flavor and nutrients and useful in dry baked goods, especially when manufacturers want to replace other sweeteners, such as dextrose, as it can be swapped at a 1:1 ratio,” Ms. Targan said.

Oat extract sweeteners are a good fit for cereal and granola, breakfast bars, pancakes, cookies and a variety of other baked foods. They are high in protein, minerals, soluble fiber and antioxidants. Functional benefits include browning (Maillard reaction), crystal control for frozen products, improved texture and extended shelf life.

MaltRite malted barley extracts are other sweeteners in MPC’s portfolio. The multifunctional ingredients act as natural humectants (moisture absorber) and enhance browning (Maillard reaction), fermentation, body and viscosity.

“Malted barley extract is used extensively in baked goods such as cereal, cookies, crackers, pretzel, nutritional liquid and dry beverages, chocolate confections and many more,” Ms. Targan said.

Molasses for shelf life

International Molasses, a MPC company, offers Golden Trim molasses that provide an aromatic flavor that masks undesirable off-notes from additives such as protein isolates, according to International Molasses. Golden Trim is smooth with honey overtones and caramel notes. Molasses, a humectant, helps extend shelf life, Ms. Targan said.

“It also helps keep soft batch cookies soft and chewy bars chewy and serves as an excellent binder for granola bars,” she said. “In baked goods, the natural antioxidants in molasses help improve shelf life (bars, cookies). In all of the above, it can help replace high-fructose corn syrup.”