What is an alternative sweetener?
These sweeteners, as well as some others that exist in nature, often are referred to as alternative sweeteners. This is a term that describes sweeteners other than the three common monosaccharides (fructose, galactose and glucose), or sucrose (a disaccharide of glucose and fructose), all of which are often simply referred to as sugars.
The polyol erythritol is making inroads in the all-natural beverage business. What makes erythritol different than most other alternative sweeteners is that it is about 70% of the sweetness of sucrose yet maintains a similar bulk density. These attributes make it an attractive partner to other high-intensity sweeteners, in particular stevia-based sweeteners, as the combination generally provides a sweetness profile and mouthfeel comparable to sucrose. Erythritol is also said to help mask the off flavors and lingering aftertastes associated with some stevia-based sweeteners.
Just in time for summer hydration, Core Nutrition L.L.C., El Segundo, Calif., introduced Core Organic, a line of fruit-infused beverages with antioxidants and 5 calories and less than a gram of sugar (from fruit juice) per 8-oz serving. Sold in 18-oz bottles, the erythritol-sweetened drink comes in six flavors. They are: coconut colada, orange clementine, orchard pear, peach mango, pomegranate blue acai and watermelon lemonade.
Agave, honey and syrups extracted from various grains and plants, are viscous sweeteners often described as minimally processed and direct from Mother Nature. Their sweetness is often not as intense as sucrose, yet they still deliver 4 calories per gram, which means when used alone, more might be necessary to achieve the same sweetness as sugar. This is why in beverages, these viscous sweeteners often are used with high-intensity sweeteners. When a natural positioning is desired, the pairing is either with stevia or monk fruit or both.
Some suppliers even offer these blends as a single ingredient system for easy addition at the manufacturing level. For example, stevia-enhanced agave nectar contains less than 3 calories per gram but because it is about four times as sweet as sucrose, it is possible to get up to a 75% reduction in sugar and calories.
“This interest in sugar reduction has combined with the ongoing emphasis on clean labeling to boost the use of natural sweeteners in particular, with more sophisticated blends developed for specific applications increasingly in evidence,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands.
Formulators must remember that sweeteners do no work autonomously in a beverage matrix. Colors, flavors, acidulants and solids all impact individual response to a product and affect what a consumer might describe as sweetness.