Cereal with sorghum syrup
White sorghum syrup makes a good alternative to a sugary coating for snacks and ready-to-eat cereals.

Grain and plant syrups

When honey cost is an issue, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. offers a white grain sorghum extract that can be used to replace some or all of the honey in a formulation. It functions as a one-to-one replacer in whole wheat and multigrain breads.

“The white sorghum plant is a sustainable North American crop and is distinguished by light color and a clean, wildflower honey-like flavor that masks bitter notes,” said Judie Giebel, technical services representative for Briess Malt & Ingredients and a AIB Certified Master Baker. It answers the need for alternatives to corn syrup, sugar and other sweeteners in a unique way, she said.

Briess Malt Sorghum Syrup
Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. offers a white grain sorghum extract that can be used to replace some or all of the honey in a formulation.

Declared simply as “grain sorghum extract” on ingredient legends, it offers formulating options in an array of baked goods with the added benefit of functioning as a browning agent, including in gluten-free baked goods and bars. The extract is available in conventional and organic formats.

Agave nectar, also sometimes called agave syrup, is another viscous sweetener that bakers are learning to use in formulas. Like honey, agave may contribute color and flavor. It is the naturally sweet juice extracted from the agave cactus plant and is about 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sucrose, with the same 4 calories per gram. In most recipes, one cup of sugar can be replaced by two-thirds cup of agave, along with a minor adjustment to added liquids.

If extreme calorie and added sugar reduction is desired, stevia-enhanced agave nectar is available to bakers. It contains less than 3 calories per gram.

Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is the naturally sweet juice extracted from the agave cactus plant and is about 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sucrose.

“Because it is about four times as sweet as sucrose, it is possible to get up to a 75% reduction in sugar and calories,” said Thom King, president of Steviva Ingredients.

Bakers can choose from other syrups extracted from plants and grains, with sources ranging from maple trees to rice kernels to tapioca pearls. These minimally processed ingredients vary in sweetness. Many such syrups are not as sweet as sugar, yet they still deliver 4 calories per gram, which means more might be necessary to achieve the same sweetness as sugar when used alone. This is why syrups are often used along with high-intensity sweeteners. When a natural positioning is desired, they can be paired with stevia or monk fruit or both.

Sweet, with benefits

There are a number of ingredients that naturally provide sweet taste without being considered sweeteners; thus, they do not contribute added sugars to a product formulation. One of the more common ingredients is chicory-root-fiber inulin.

“Some chicory root fiber inulin ingredients are as high as 65% the sweetness of sugar yet still contain at least 75% dietary fiber,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager for Sensus America, Inc. “Chicory root fiber is synergistic with high-intensity sweeteners and has masking properties to help provide a clean sweetness.”

Cookies with chicory root fiber inulin
Derived from chicory root, inulin brings its own sweetness to bakery formulas.

Another new ingredient is sprouted whole wheat powder. This first-of-its-kind whole grain nutritive sweetener developed by Briess is 100% pure sprouted whole wheat and is declared as such on product labels. It delivers nutrition and sweetness created during natural sprouting, gentle cooking and drying.

“Simultaneously, it contributes zero ‘added sugars,’ while replacing part to all of the sugar in a formula, reducing or eliminating the amount of ‘added sugars’ on the label,” Ms. Giebel said. “One example is a pound cake with 50% of the added sugars reduced through the use of sprouted whole wheat powder.”

Another interesting sweetener is isomaltulose, which is made from beet sugar and occurs naturally in honey. It is an effective and healthy sugar with a mild, sweet taste. Having a low effect on blood sugar levels but being fully digestible, it provides full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained way, eliminating the undesired “boost and crash effect” generally associated with other sugars, according to Jon Peters president of Beneo.

Beet sugar
Isomaltulose is a sweetener made from beet sugar that occurs naturally in honey.

“Our isomaltulose is a proven contributor to better fat oxidation in energy metabolism, potentially providing longer-term benefits for body composition and weight management,” Mr. Peters said.


“U.S. consumers are becoming increasingly aware that not all sugars are alike,” Mr. Peters said. “They are seeking balanced energy and good taste in a healthier sugar from natural sources.”