Stevia-based sweetener systems are becoming more specific, more in tune with the uniqueness of individual applications, be it ice cream, tea or yogurt. This year, for example, PureCircle, Inc. launched Sigma-D for dairy products and Sigma-T for tea.
Erylite stevia, a sweetener from Jungbunzlauer that combines stevia and erythritol, comes in three forms. Food and beverage companies may choose the version that best helps them achieve the sweetness profile and amount of erythritol desired in an application.
Research progress over the years has allowed stevia suppliers to reduce the bitter, metallic and licorice-like aftertastes associated with the sweetener, said Wade Schmelzer, principal food scientist for Cargill.
“Some of those long-standing aftertaste issues, we’ve got a pretty good handle on those,” he said.
Now, formulators, when using stevia in place of sugar, want to recreate the sugar experience as closely as possible, he said. It will vary by application.
“When you are replacing sugar, you have to think about the maximum usage levels, and also the characteristics that the sugar imparts in that product,” said John Reidy market development manager for Jungbunzlauer. “It’s sweetness. It’s mouthfeel. It’s a lot of different things.”
In dairy products, it’s recreating the upfront sweetness and textural attributes of sugar.
“Dairy systems have historically been very difficult for development as higher protein and fat systems block the taste receptors for high-intensity sweeteners,” said John Martin, global director of technical development and innovation for PureCircle, Oak Brook, Ill. “This typically results in a delayed sweetness impact of the product in comparison to sugar.”
PureCircle’s Sigma-D provides upfront sweetness in such dairy applications as yogurt, pudding and chocolate milk.
“There are a wide range of glycosides in the stevia leaf, each with different attributes and taste performance,” Mr. Martin said. “Through extensive research we have found that combinations of these glycosides yield solutions that are able to address technical opportunities in different applications, such as upfront sweetness and linger in dairy products. The glycoside combinations in Sigma-D all occur naturally in the leaf, but are proprietary to PureCircle.”
Mr. Schmelzer said erythritol, sweetness enhancers and natural flavors all may assist in creating an upfront sweetness similar to sugar. The goal is to have a reduced sugar product with the upfront sweetness, middle sweetness and end sweetness of sugar.
“You just kind of round out the dynamics to recreate the experience,” he said.
Starches and hydrocolloids may be used to recreate sugar’s texture, such as replacing mouthfeel, Mr. Schmelzer said.
Removing sugar and calories in yogurt may be easier than several years ago when sweetness intensity levels were higher, he said. Sweetness intensity levels in the dairy category have come down, partly because of Greek yogurts.
Chocolate milk and ice cream are two other dairy opportunities for stevia inclusion. Cargill has created chocolate milk with no sugar added by employing its Viatech stevia-based products along with flavors, Mr. Schmelzer said.
“Two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to achieve that,” he said.
He added sugar plays a role in the freezing point of ice cream and that erythritol is able to replace sugar functionally.
Jungbunzlauer, through its Erylite stevia 100 product, sampled reduced-sugar ice cream during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Chicago this past July.
“It did a great job of reducing the sugar content and the calorie content,” Mr. Reidy said.
Erylite stevia 100 has the same sweetness as sucrose. Erylite stevia 200 is two times as sweet as sucrose, and Erylite stevia 400 is four times as sweet. While stevia by itself is a micro-ingredient and difficult to measure accurately, Erylite, with its combination of stevia and erythritol, is easier to use and not as cumbersome, he said.
Mr. Reidy said formulators should know the maximum use level of erythritol for each of their applications. For dairy, it’s normally about 10%, he said. Other maximum erythritol use levels are about 3.5% for beverages and about 15% for baked foods.
Beverage manufacturers tend to use Erylite stevia 200 or 400, Mr. Reidy said.
“Our product actually helps to reduce and minimize that lingering sweetness and the off-taste of stevia,” he said.
Bitterness may be a problem in beverages with stevia, especially tea.
“For Sigma-T, we focused on glycosides’ performance that help to reduce astringency and bitterness of teas as well as those that bring out the fruit or earthy tones of a tea,” Mr. Martin said. “Similar to Sigma-D, all glycoside combinations occur naturally in the leaf.”
No additional bitter-blocking ingredients or flavor-masking agents are used, he said.
For another beverage issue, the sweetener system and the acid system need to work together to balance the sweetness with sourness, Mr. Schmelzer said. In beverages, a variety of acid systems, including citric, malic or a combination of the two, are available.
Confectionery may be another area for stevia exploration. Sugar-free product lines accounted for less than 7% of global confectionery launches in 2014, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands. In the United States, sugar-free confectionery launches accounted for 11% of total confectionery launches in 2014. Product launches with stevia included chocolate bars, chewing gum, gummies and mints. PureCircle stevia ingredients are found in a range of confectionery products, including gums, jellies, chocolates and other sugar confections, Mr. Martin said.
Erylite stevia may be used in confectionery, Mr. Reidy said, but erythritol may need the assistance of other sweeteners. In hard candy, an ingredient like isomalt may help with crystallization, he said. Maltitol syrup or corn syrup may help with the soft chew in gummies and soft candy.
“If you were to just use erythritol by itself, it would form a dry, brittle product that’s really not chewy,” he said.
Stevia supplies and sales will keep rising, according to a 2014 report from Zenith International, Bath, United Kingdom. The report estimated worldwide sales of stevia will increase to 7,150 tonnes, equivalent to $578 million, in 2017 from an estimated 4,670 tonnes, equivalent to $336 million, in 2014.
The stevia market, and the success of future new product launches, may depend on continuing research in stevia-based sweetener systems.
“We’ll continue to move and evolve with that from an innovation standpoint, and that’s both on the stevia side of things and also the product development, how to approach formulations,” Mr. Schmelzer said. “You’ve got to do both things for people to get successful products out on the market.”