KANSAS CITY — Exploring ways to blend high-intensity sweeteners may lead to new discoveries in reducing sugar in greater amounts. Onset of sweetness, lingering off-flavors and the price of the sweeteners should be considered.

Blends of natural high-intensity sweeteners stevia and monk fruit are effective. Depending on how a product is positioned, other high-intensity sweeteners like sucralose and acesulfame potassium (Ace K) will work in blends, too.

All high-intensity sweeteners have their own strengths and weaknesses, said Jim Carr, PhD, director, global ingredient technology for London-based Tate & Lyle, PLC.

“Monk fruit has a great label appeal and the taste performance of a high-potency sweetener,” he said. “Even sucralose is being used in combination with some of these natural high-potency sweeteners to give the right taste profile. Sucralose, of course, has a very clean, sweet taste, and it can really help with overall formula cost.”

The temporal profile, or the timing and intensity of the sweetener, needs to be considered, he said. Sucralose helps control a bitterness that may linger from another sweetener or from a protein.

Sucralose and stevia are being incorporated into sweetener blends in meal replacement drinks and protein shakes, said Beth Neiman Hacker, director, global market research for Tate & Lyle.

“In addition to that, your snack, cereal and energy bars as well are categories where we are seeing that combination play out,” she said.

Sweetener blends, including a combination of different high-intensity sweeteners, may mimic the sensory profile of sugar, said Adela Casas, technical sales/business development manager for Sweetener Solutions, Savannah, Ga.

“For example, acesulfame potassium has an early onset and sucralose has a later onset compared to that of sugar,” she said. “The right ratios of these two sweeteners will grant the profile you are looking for.”

As steviol glycosides, which are found in the stevia plant or produced through fermentation, have evolved, formulators now may consider blends of different steviol glycosides.

“Next-generation steviol glycosides such as Rebaudioside M can provide up to 100% sugar reduction in beverages, but high-intensity sweeteners’ limitations in replacing sugar’s functional properties restrict its role in non-beverage applications,” said Akshay Kumar Anugu, PhD, senior associate, applications, global sugar reduction for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “One hundred percent sugar-reduction solutions for beverages are often optimized for taste, cost and performance using several steviol glycosides, including Reb A, Reb B, Reb D and Reb M. Monk fruit extract is also used at lower levels with stevia for its taste and labeling advantages.”

Before choosing high-intensity sweeteners, formulators should know whom the product is targeting and whether it may be promoted as more natural. A proprietary study from Ingredion categorized consumers into five segments.

Christina Coles, associate marketing manager, sugar reduction and specialty sweeteners, said the first group, “naturelles,” desire natural products and make up 16% of total consumers. The “balancers” make up 17% and show an increased desire for products with sugar instead of artificial or any other type of sweetener. The “sugar frees” make up 19% and want to manage sugar intake. They show a lower concern for artificial sweetener use and an increased use of stevia. The “sweet tooths” at 17% know they should eat healthier but still do not. The “carefrees” make up 30%. They do not believe sugar is bad for them but show an increased interest in natural non-caloric sweeteners like stevia.

More blending options

Certain food and beverage categories may need more than high-intensity sweeteners to replace sugar. Combinations of high-intensity sweeteners and complementary ingredients maintain the flavor and texture of products like ice cream without added sugar and sugar-free hard seltzers, said Sarah Diedrich, marketing director, sweetening solutions and fiber for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. ADM's Fibersol dietary fiber is low viscosity, process stable and water-soluble. SweetRight Edge stevia, SweetRight allulose and Fibersol-2 may be combined in frozen desserts and novelties.

Combinations of high-intensity sweeteners and complementary ingredients work best to maintain the flavor and textural integrity of products like ice cream without added sugar.

“Without the correct blend, we run the risk of having ice crystallization in the ice cream,” Ms. Diedrich said. “Both Fibersol and allulose help minimize ice crystallization and keep desired creaminess consistency with zero added sugars per serving.”

A hydrocolloid may bring back mouthfeel when a high amount of sugar is replaced, Ms. Casas said. Erythritol, a polyol, also may be considered, said Ravi Nana, polyols technical service manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill.

“While not considered a high-intensity sweetener, this calorie-free bulk sweetener helps round out the sweetness profile of stevia,” he said. “Depending on the reduced sugar application, erythritol also supports a number of functional roles. In beverages, it enhances mouthfeel, which decreases with sugar reduction. In frozen dairy products, it provides freezing-point depression, and in reduced-sugar baked goods, it contributes bulk and enhances texture.” 

Hitting zero added sugar through steviol glycoside innovation

While awareness of added sugars increases, innovation in stevia extracts and other steviol glycosides makes claims of no added sugar possible in more food and beverage applications.

Added sugars have hit the radar of regulatory agencies and consumers.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in July recommended added sugars make up less than 6% of total caloric intake, which compares to less than 10% in the 2015-20 version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 2020 version in early October had yet to be unveiled.

The US Food and Drug Administration defines added sugars as those either added during the processing of foods or packaged as such. The FDA mandates the listing of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label.

About 40% of Americans look for both sugars and added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label, according to a study released in January by London-based Tate & Lyle, PLC. Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, completed a study in August that found 33% of those surveyed seek products with no added sugar. The study involved sugar reduction in general.

“Through this research, it’s clear there’s an ever-increasing need for sweetening solutions and clean label sweeteners,” said Sarah Diedrich, marketing director, sweetening solutions and fiber for ADM. “As an example, 8 out of 10 consumers are engaged in sugar reduction, with 83% actively trying to reduce sugar in beverages, 79% in bars and snacks, 75% in sauces and dressings, 70% in baked goods, 69% in dairy products, and 54% in candies and chocolate.”

More categories continually feature claims of zero added sugar, said Jim Carr, PhD, director, global ingredient technology at Tate & Lyle.

“More often than not, it’s by using a combination of technology,” he said.

The claim is easier to achieve in beverages such as flavored waters. Removing added sugars becomes more challenging in applications like frozen dairy items, bars or baked foods because properties like browning, texture and shelf life must be retained.

“We think that zero added sugar is possible across a range of categories,” Dr. Carr said. “It is increasing because we have better sugar-replacing tools.”

He pointed to an increase in supply for Rebaudioside D and Rebaudioside M, two steviol glycosides that more closely resemble sugar, and allulose, a “rare” sugar that the FDA in 2019 ruled does not count as sugar or added sugar on the Nutrition Facts Label.

Minneapolis-based Cargill offers EverSweet that features Reb M and Reb D.

“While these glycosides are rare in the stevia plant, we produce them via fermentation, creating a cost-efficient, great-tasting sweetener, produced with the environment in mind,” said Andrew Ohmes, global director, high-intensity sweeteners for Cargill.

EverSweet steviol glycosides are created through the fermentation of specialty crafted yeast.

ADM offers SweetRight Edge stevia, which may be used to achieve zero grams of added sugar in formulations like ice cream, hard seltzer and chocolate without sacrificing flavor, Ms. Diedrich said.

“We developed SweetRight Edge stevia with the goal of targeting the best aspects of the stevia plant,” she said. “The stevia leaf extract has a superior taste profile when compared to other stevia glycosides and is suitable for clean label applications. We innovated a new approach for stevia extraction and purification, ultimately leading to a better performing sweetening solution with qualities that appeal to both formulators and consumers.”

Stevia-based sweeteners under the Bestevia brand from SweeGen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., feature Reb D and Reb M. The company is expanding globally and in August announced its joint venture with the China Commercial Foreign Trade Group to distribute sweeteners in China.

Stevia’s role in sugar reduction may keep growing in importance. The global stevia market reached $637.1 million in 2018, according to Allied Market Research, Portland, Ore., which forecast the market to have a compound annual growth rate of 8% to reach $1.16 billion by 2026. An increase in applications in foods and beverages, demand among diabetics and obese consumers, and the launches of new products will drive the growth, according to Allied Market Research. Threats from substitute products may hinder growth, but a surge in demand for natural sweeteners and a rise in stevia use in animal feed could be new growth avenues.

The powder segment held the largest stevia market share in 2019, but Allied Market Research forecasts the liquid segment to have a CAGR of 8.6% as different flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut and lemon, will improve the flavor of foods and beverages.