In efforts to reduce added sugars, beverage formulators should seek out ingredient synergies. There’s a large toolbox of sweeteners with beverage application. (See table on Page 41.) Each sweetener possesses different physical, chemical and sweetening properties, and these may change based on other ingredients in a beverage system. Even the flavor of the beverage may impact the sweetening system.
For example, within the booming category of R.-T.-D. tea, stevia, which is known to sometimes have some bitter, licorice-like notes, might be more forgiving in a mint-flavored green tea than in a hibiscus white tea.
Many beverage marketers are finding success in combining sugar with stevia to reduce added sugars while not going completely sugar free. Careful manipulation of fruit juice ingredients and natural flavors may provide a fuller, complete flavor profile.
New Steaz Cactus Water from The Healthy Beverage Co., Doylestown, Pa., combines organic prickly pear cactus juice with antioxidant-rich green tea. Each 12-oz can contains 50 calories and 9 grams of sugar from added cane sugar and the fruit juice. Natural flavors and stevia provide additional sweetness. There are three varieties: cucumber, original and starfruit.
About a year ago, the brand introduced a line of unsweetened R.-T.-D. teas that contain no calories but natural flavor (dragonfruit, lemon or passionfruit) and some fiber (4 grams per 16-oz can) from inulin, which adds some calorie-free natural sweetness and mouthfeel.
Before designing a beverage sweetening system, it is best to determine finished product labeling, sensory and shelf life goals. This includes a maximum for added sugars and calorie content.
If placement in Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, is not a priority, as the natural foods chain does include a number of sweeteners on its list of “unacceptable ingredients for food,” then you may want to consider artificial sweeteners. These are highly efficient and economical at delivering sweet to beverages.
Despite the growing trend of making all natural and no artificial ingredient claims, many consumers remain indifferent to artificial sweeteners. Some even recognize their value in weight management and with minimizing sugar intake.
For example, Atkins Nutritionals Inc., Denver, now offers Atkins Lift Protein Drinks in three flavors: berry, lemon and orange. Each 16.9-oz bottle contains 90 to 100 calories, depending on flavor, along with no sugar and 20 grams of protein. Water is the first ingredient, and the beverage is sweetened with sucralose.
According to new insights from the 2016 Food and Health Survey from The International Food Information Council Foundation, Washington, perceptions of the healthfulness of certain foods vary dramatically between generations, especially between baby boomers versus millennials.
For example, boomers report that their opinions on sweeteners are changing. Almost 4 in 10 boomers (37%) believe added sugars are less healthful than they used to believe, with 9 in 10 of those who have recently changed their opinion on added sugars reporting they are now consuming less. Of those who report changing their opinion of added sugars within the last year, boomers are more likely than millennials (37% vs. 29%) to view them as less healthful than they used to. Additionally, boomers are more likely to agree low-calorie sweeteners may play a role in weight management (31%) than millennials (14%) and the general population (18%).
When it comes to low-calorie sweeteners, also known as high-intensity sweeteners, there are eight available in the sweetener toolbox. Six of them — acesulfame potassium (ace-k), advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose — are regulated by the F.D.A. as food additives and are considered to be artificial sweeteners. The other two — monk fruit and stevia — are regulated as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients and considered to be natural sweeteners.
PowerBar, a brand of Premier Nutrition Corp., which is a subsidiary of Post Holdings, St. Louis, is rolling out Clean Whey Protein Drinks in response to consumer requests for cleaner ingredient labels. A single-serve 16.9-milliliter bottle contains 70 calories, 15 grams of whey protein and no sugar, as it’s sweetened with stevia. The drink will begin to appear on retail shelves in October in two flavors: berry pomegranate and fruit punch.
The most recent sweetener to enter the marketplace is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide that exists in nature. Recognized as GRAS in 2015, the ingredient provides the mouthfeel of table sugar, along with about 70% of its sweetness; thus, it is not a high-intensity sweetener. It is considered a low-calorie sugar, as it provides 90% fewer calories than full caloric sugar.