As consumers move away from unhealthy foods, they are looking for sugar alternatives and substitutes that are more natural, more sustainable, and better sweeteners for their bodies. There are many ways that innovators and industries are adapting to these new challenges and opportunities. Let’s take a look.

The Bitterness of Sweets

A recent study shows that 60% of consumers are watching the sugar content in their diets, and yet those same consumers express concerns over established artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose. Consumers are interested in finding natural, healthy sweeteners, with sweet alternatives like coconut nectar, agave syrup, and stevia. It also creates opportunities for less familiar sweet substitutes like yacon, brazzien, and more. 

Sugar Alternatives from Nature

More and more people are exploring natural sweeteners. People on vegan, whole food, and raw food diets are modifying recipes and finding new ways to use naturally sweet foods like bananas, dates, applesauce, and monk fruit. They are also choosing whole food sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup. The benefits of natural, whole foods sweeteners are significant, so they are also highly recommended by doctors and medical professionals. Naturally sweet foods have several advantages over refined sugars, including:

  1. Low glycemic index. Whole food and natural sweeteners have a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, so they promote more constant and manageable blood sugar and insulin levels.
  2. High fiber content. Natural sweeteners retain much of the fiber in whole foods, promoting healthy digestion and, again, reducing the insulin response. 
  3. Higher nutrition content. Many whole food and natural sweeteners provide vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients while sweetening foods. 
  4. Easy, simple food labels. Whole foods and natural sweeteners have simple nutrition and ingredient labels that are friendly for consumers. They also lend themselves to organic and sustainable agriculture practices that are also eco-friendly and attractive to consumers. 

Because so many of these types of sweeteners have a wide range of other types of benefits, they can often be treated like functional foods, enhancing the flavor of foods while also promoting good health and nutrition. 

The drawback of these types of sweeteners is that it is not always easy to simply substitute them for refined sugar and use them in the same way. White sugar is incredibly versatile, and can easily be used in conventional recipes when cooking and baking, added to coffee and tea, sprinkled over cereals, etc. Swapping whole and natural sweeteners for white sugar calls for more extensive modification of recipes and cooking methods, and consumers may lose some of the other unique properties of sugar, like the promotion of browning, retention of moisture, increasing lift and lightness, providing stabilization, etc. 

Sugar Reduction Formulations

For manufacturers trying to reduce sugar content in prepared foods, more innovation is needed. Because sugar enhances foods in so many ways, reduced sugar foods need an alternative that also retains moisture, promotes tenderness, provides lift, etc. Here are some of the current methods to reduce sugar content in prepared foods:

  • Litesse polydextrose. Developed by Dupont Nutrition and Bioscience now part of IFF, Litesse is a low calorie specialty carbohydrate. It has prebiotic properties, a low glycemic index, and is high in fiber. Because of its high solubility, it can replace glucose or corn syrup in foods, providing binding and stability without affecting flavor or texture. Dupont offers Litesse in several formulations for use in beverages, baking, and confectionary products. 
  • Brazzein. Brazzein is a “rare sugar”: a sweetener found in small quantities in nature. Brazzein is found in a West African fruit, is up to 2,000 times sweeter than sugar, and was first discovered in the mid-1990s. Scaling it up for commercial use has been a challenge, but startup Sweegen is using a precision fermentation process to make brazzein more widely available at a competitive cost to white sugar.  
  • Allulose. Another rare sugar, allulose is naturally sweet, but, more importantly, it compliments other sugar reduction strategies by adding back many of the other functional properties of sugar. Allulose provides the bulk, browning, and moisturizing properties of sugar, with fewer calories and a lower glycemic index. It is especially effective at reducing sugar quantity in baked goods.
  • Erythritol. Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, formed as a byproduct of fermentation in some foods. It is about 70% as sweet as sugar, but has no calories, and does not affect blood sugar or promote tooth decay. Because it has no flavor, it can complement other sweeteners while reducing calories and creating a pleasant mouthfeel. It is also high in antioxidants, and is an effective scavenger of free radicals. 

While some sugar reduction ingredients, like xylitol and sorbitol, can cause intestinal discomfort, these new formulations have no unpleasant side effects, and provide many of the same functional properties as sugar. 

Enhanced Sweeting Technologies 

Another strategy for reducing sugar in foods is to use technologies to increase the perceived sweetness of foods without significantly altering their ingredients. Some of the sweetness technologies in recent years include:

  • Stevia enhancement. Cargill has developed a number of stevia enhancements that replace sugar with natural stevia. Cargill’s EverSweet isolates the sweetest components of stevia to create a high-potency sweetener. Combined with their ClearFlo flavor component, manufacturers can customize formulas that replace sugar while maintaining the dissolution, solubility, flavor, and sensory qualities of sugar. This enhanced stevia product can be used to replace sugar in beverages, dairy, and confectionary, with no calories or bitter flavor. 
  • Double emulsion. Using saccharose in a double water-in-oil-in-water emulsion process enhances the perceived sweetness of foods without causing sensory loss, and without adding any additional sweeteners. The double emulsion process concentrates saccharose at the outer aqueous phase of foods, where they are more quickly and powerfully detected by taste receptors, and therefore perceived as 75% sweeter than single-emulsion foods.   
  • Enzymatic sugar reduction. Prebiotic isomaltooligosaccharides are created by an enzymatic reaction with corn starch. Industrially, they can be used to replace high calorie sugars and promote sweetness. IMOSs are especially interesting in baked goods, where they create sweetness while also increasing moisture, volume, and tenderness. Even better, they have a wide range of prebiotic benefits, stimulating intestinal and systemic immunity, while reducing total cholesterol and triacyglyceride levels. 

With so many new technologies that allow us to experience the benefits of sugar without sugar, it may be possible to reduce sugar content in foods without significantly modifying recipes, ingredients, or production methods.  

If your brand wants to explore these sweet paths to success, you need a team of researchers, food and beverage scientists, and life scientists to get you there. Grapefrute’s expertise and experience makes us the premiere industry partner, helping you find the talent you need. Contact us today.