Manufacturers are seeking new sweeteners that will work synergistically with others already on the market.

The sweetener market may be ripe for further disruption. As regulators and public health officials continue to highlight the negative role the over consumption of caloric sweeteners may have on an individual’s health, ingredient manufacturers are developing alternatives that are true to the current trends driving the food and beverage market, most notably natural and clean label.

On the regulatory front, it remains to be seen what the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel will be, but if the proposed listing of added sugars is adopted it may prompt some consumers to seek products featuring sweetener alternatives. That regulatory proposal combined with the revised 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January that for the first time recommended added sugars not exceed 10% of daily calories consumed also may have an effect.

Efforts to develop alternatives range from the creation of business platforms designed to match sweetener technologies with applications to the development of new sweeteners that may offer food and beverage processors alternatives.

One company that is focused on both is Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. During the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference, held Feb. 16-19 in Boca Raton, Fla., Jim Zallie, executive vice-president of global specialties and president of the Americas for the company, said sweetener innovation is an area of focus.

“We are looking at next-generation sweeteners,” he said Feb. 18, during the Ingredion CAGNY presentation. “And we are investing in sensory capabilities to understand sweetness so we can converse with our customers similar to how we converse today in the area of texture where we feel we have led the industry in regards to understanding textural descriptions.”

Ingredion’s focus on textural descriptions led to the development of what the company calls Texicon, which is the lexicon of texture. The Texicon initiative was introduced in 2011, and is designed to translate the consumer texture experience into measurable scientific terms.

In a follow-up interview with Food Business News, Mr. Zallie said people think of Ingredion as a sweetening and texturizing company, but that most of the innovation has been focused on texturizers and specialty starches.

“Equally, we have a big sweetener business, with caloric and high intensity products,” he said. “We are looking at building out our sweetening system sensory capabilities. We see next gen products in that category.

“People are concerned about the pending labeling regulations around sugar and added sugars and having to call all of it out. That, along with the trend toward obesity, means some people want to move away and look at alternatives. They are looking at stevia and next gen products, and we are developing better tasting products that offer advantages for low- and no-cal functionality.”

Allulose as an alternative?

In February 2015, Tate & Lyle P.L.C., London, introduced Dolcia Prima, a sweetener sourced from the rare sugar allulose. The ingredient has 90% fewer calories than regular sugar and is suitable for applications in such categories as baked goods, beverages and dairy.

“We’ve been working with a variety of manufacturers who are excited about the benefits Dolcia Prima holds for developing lower-calorie foods and beverages that still taste great,” said Abigail Storms, vice-president of platform management — sweeteners for Tate & Lyle. “We’ve seen strong interest across key segments and expect launches in the coming months.”

Allulose may work synergistically with such sweeteners as stevia to mask off tastes and flavors.

The functionality of allulose is similar to other sugars, with the additional benefits of browning when baked, depressing the freezing point in products, and addition of bulk and texture to applications, according to Tate & Lyle.

“Dolcia Prima Allulose works in in synergy with certain high-potency sweeteners, such as Splenda sucralose and Tasteva stevia sweetener to enable even better sweetening systems,” said Luis Fernandez, senior vice-president of global applications for Tate & Lyle. “When using allulose in combination with sucralose or stevia, perceived sweetness is 10% to 40% higher than using the sweeteners alone.”

Matsutani America, Chicago, introduced its allulose-based sweetener called Astraea during the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo last year. The ingredient is a monosaccharide, the simplest form of sugar and one of about 50 types that exist in small quantities in nature and as components of food, according to the company.

Yuma Tani, R.&D. deputy manager for Matsutani America, said that allulose may be a new ingredient to the marketplace, but research into it has been going on for years.

“We started researching rare sugars in the ’90s,” he said. “There is a lot of science behind the sweetener.”

At issue has been production. As the name implies, rare sugars are not commonplace, but researchers at Kagawa University in Japan discovered a way to produce them from more common monosaccharides found in nature, allowing the university to partner with businesses for large-scale production.

Astraea is created using a process known as “Izumoring,” coined by Ken Izumori, Ph.D. When a monosaccharide reacts with a microbial enzyme, it causes the sugar to change from one type to another.

As with any new ingredient, Mr. Tani said manufacturers have many questions.

“Our presentations have gone well,” he said. “There is interest, but there are also concerns.”

One concern Mr. Tani mentioned is price. While he concedes allulose won’t be as cheap as high-fructose corn syrup, he did say its sweetness and functionality work well in applications where manufacturers are trying to offset issues caused by other ingredients.

“Beverages are one application, especially those beverages with stevia,” he said. “Allulose is a very good fit, because it masks the off flavor from the stevia. Allulose has a good masking ability when it is combined with other high intensity sweeteners. It matches up very well.”

What’s on the horizon?

Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan say they have found a way to make thaumatin, a natural sugar substitute, even sweeter.

“Making natural sweeteners stronger could be a huge plus to the food industry, especially as there are concerns regarding the consumption of low-calorie sugar substitutes to prevent life style-related diseases,” said Tetsuya Masuda of Kyoto University, lead author of the study that shows that the sweetness of thaumatin may be improved.

Thaumatin is a protein derived from the fruit of an African tropical plant and is the sweetener of choice when it comes to “diet” beverages and gummy and jelly candies boasting natural ingredients. Thaumatin also masks bitterness and helps enhance flavor.

Interestingly, only humans and primates taste sweetness from thaumatin. Dr. Masuda and colleagues have analyzed its structure with X-rays to determine which parts of the protein make it taste sweet. From the studies they found that the basic amino acids in thaumatin play a role in eliciting “sweetness,” implying that substituting acidic amino acids with basic ones may make it sweeter.

In the study, Dr. Masuda replaced aspartic acid with asparagine, making thaumatin 1.7 times sweeter than before. This also confirms the complex interaction between thaumatin and the sweetness receptor of the tongue, which was discovered in the early 2000s after long speculation by scientists.

Sweetness is detected when positively charged molecules on the protein come in the vicinity of negatively charged molecules on the sweetness receptor.

“For a long time the mechanism in which we taste sweetness from thaumatin was a mystery, and for that reason it took very long to sweeten it up,” Dr. Masuda said. “Now that we’ve taken steps in the right direction, I’m excited about developing applications for a stronger form of thaumatin.”