Hitting the Sweet Spot
by Cathy Sivak
Creative combination, formulation is basic
form for alternative sweeteners and systems.
For dairy formulators
seeking to tap into the health and wellness trend, low-sugar, low-calorie
and no-sugar-added dairy foods are top of mind. Processors can choose from
a variety of alternative sweeteners and systems, but a straight-line
approach to dairy product sugar removal or reduction is rare.
“Most of the dairy processors want to meet the
customer demands for quality products with fewer calories and less
sugar,” explains Tammy Reinhart, group leader of dairy application at
the Sycamore, Ill.-based dairy industry specialist branch of Tate &
Lyle, Decatur, Ill.
Meeting the demand to cut calories and sugar is a
complex challenge. After all, sugar contributes not only sweetness, but
also functionality and performance issues such as taste, texture and
set/freeze points. The task goes beyond product formulation, crossing into
the marketing sphere as a result of heightened consumer label scrutiny.
Some consumers avoid widely available high-intensity sweeteners such as
aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose based on taste preferences,
citing undesirable aftertaste. Meanwhile, parents are becoming more
vigilant about the content and nutrition values of foods designed for and
marketed to kids. The result is that not only do some consumers avoid
products with high-intensity sweeteners, but parents in particular are also
taking an increasingly dim view of high-fructose corn syrup.
But processors who seek to reduce calorie counts and
sugar content for adults and kids alike can tap a supplier lineup that
continues to develop new sweetener offerings, systems and custom
formulation expertise. Suppliers report that many low-calorie dairy foods
seek to incorporate high-intensity sweeteners, with increased attention
paid to inherent taste challenges. Sweeteners from the sugar alcohols
family are increasingly being utilized, either alone or paired with
high-intensity ingredients for additional functionality and cost
“Sweetener alternative innovations support the
health and wellness trend, reducing calories and sugar in products.
We’re seeing the use of alternatives across all categories, and this
can also be applied in the portion-control segment,” Reinhart says,
noting that portion size is quite important to formulation of some ice
creams, yogurts and milks.
Whether tweaking an existing formula or creating a new
one, ongoing development of alternative sweeteners and systems can augment
traditional sweetening methods or even completely replace sugars such as
high-fructose corn syrup.
Dairy processors can lean on the technical resources,
equipment and application expertise of ingredient suppliers, and frequently
draw on supplier capabilities to produce prototypes and pilot scale dairy
products using new ingredients, notes Ravi Nana, the Hammond, Ind.-based
technical service manager for polyols for the Sweetness Solutions business
of Cargill Inc., Minneapolis. “The processors are able to reduce
their R&D cost and time by tapping into ingredient supplier’s
resources,” Nana says.
The key is in the sweetener selection, or in many
cases, the combinations of sweeteners utilized. “The selection of
proper starches, stabilizers, emulsifiers and other food ingredient sugars,
such as sugar alcohols, is necessary to preserve the integrity of the
finished products,” Reinhart says. “It’s not hard to work
with, if you are patient enough to try different levels and different
Growth in no-sugar-added, reduced-sugar and
reduced-calorie dairy products is driving innovation of alternative
sweeteners among suppliers, including Westchester, Ill.-based Corn Products
Specialty Ingredients (CPSpecialties). “Key categories for product
development in these areas include ice cream and frozen desserts, yogurt
and yogurt beverages, and flavored milk products,” says Katherine
Gage, CPSpecialties’ New Castle, Del.-based marketing director.
Whether the development goal is to reduce or
completely eschew use of widely available high-intensity sweeteners,
increasingly the solution is incorporation of sugar alcohols. Also called
polyols, sugar alcohols additionally act as agents that contribute to dairy
product texture, replacing the function of sugar. Consumer taste
preferences and gastrointestinal tolerance thresholds to various
combinations of sweetening agents are in play.
The need to create combinations is forced: When
sucrose and corn syrup solids are taken out of the formulation in a
no-sugar-added or reduced-sugar application, high-intensity sweeteners
alone cannot replace the bulk that is removed, Gage says. To respond to the
need for improved taste, texture, sweetness and functionality of sweetening
systems in new and existing no-sugar-added and reduced-sugar ice cream
products, CPSpecialties (the former SPI Polyols foods business) offers
Maltisweet IC Maltitol Syrup. The sweetener is a combination of
maltitol sugar alcohol, diglycerides and polysaccharides, which together
yield a molecular weight “remarkably close to that of sugar,”
Gage says. “With characteristics nearly identical to sugar and corn
syrup, this ingredient can function as a one-to-one replacement, delivering
an almost identical freezing point depression and thereby yielding
desirable textural benefits.”
Designed for use in flavored milks and cultured
products in the health and wellness trends, the Enrich line from Tate &
Lyle is a group of specially formulated ingredients that replace
high-fructose corn syrup with sucralose. Depending on the product goal,
high fructose can be dropped completely or simply reduced as an ingredient.
“Everything we do is custom for each customer. One may want to
replace high fructose, one might want to halve high fructose,”
Reinhart says. “Increased demand spurs advances, and the sweeteners
segment offers a new crop.”
Teterboro, N.J.-based Mastertaste reports customer
interest in flavor modulators which focus product taste attributes such as
enhancing product sweetness with reduced levels of caloric sweeteners in
virtually any reduced sugar or carbohydrate product application.
“In dairy products, processors typically find it
difficult to use alternative sweeteners to completely eliminate sugar
unless they are willing to include artificial, high-density
sweeteners,” explains Paul Riker, Mastertaste beverage applications
manager. “Sugar alcohols are an option, but can only be used in a
limited fashion to reduce sugar in dairy products.”
Combine Trim, Bulky
“For those consumers who want to cut back on
added sugars in their diet but not eliminate them completely, processors
are also beginning to focus more attention on reduced-sugar product
applications,” Gage says. “This growing consumer trend favoring
moderation over complete elimination has processors turning to suppliers
for development of sweetener systems.”
The systems are in play where traditional sweeteners
such as sucrose and corn syrup are combined with polyols and high-intensity
sweeteners to create what Gage dubs as “dairy products that offer the
benefits of less sugar and fewer calories, with little to no compromise on
Dairy processors are also utilizing polyols such as
maltitol and polyglycitol syrups and powders to improve on their existing
no-sugar-added offerings and increasingly in reduced-sugar products. For
no-sugar-added and reduced-sugar dairy applications, malitol and maltitol
syrups (90 percent as sweet as sucrose), offer a direct 1:1 replacement for
sucrose and corn syrup, and can be used alone or teamed with high-intensity
sweeteners, Gage notes.
“High-intensity sweeteners are many folds
sweeter than sugars — 200X, 600X — and hence are added at very
low levels,” Cargill’s Nana says. Since such sweeteners do not
provide bulk, body and mouthfeel functions, polyols are added as a bulking
agent that also sweetens the profile, she says. The sweetness depends on
the polyol used, she says, citing 100 percent comparisons to sucrose as
xylitol, 100 percent; maltitol, 90 percent; and erythritol, 70 percent.
Utilizing combinations also serves to better create a
sucrose profile match. “Alternative sweeteners may differ in their
sweetness time intensity profile compared to sucrose,” Nana says.
“They may have different onset and intensity in terms of
Alternative sweeteners are likely different on
properties like freezing point, boiling point and melting point, with
high-intensity sweetener incorporation with mono- or disaccharides-based
polyols key for bulking and freeze-point depression. Teaming polyols and
high-intensity sweeteners provides complimentary sweetness attributes and a
way to improve the bottom line, as high-intensity sweeteners carry a much
lower cost as the equivalent sweetness provided by polyols, Nana explains.
In ice cream, the relative sweetness and the freeze
point must be carefully considered when utilizing both high-intensity
sweeteners and sugar alcohols. “We want to mimic the full-sugar
product. The freeze-point depression means we can’t rely solely on
the high-intensity sweeteners,” Reinhart says.
Indeed, without the body provided by sugar, resulting
ice cream texture would be similar to frozen milk. “Sugar alcohols
bulk the product back up to replace the sugar solids that you took
out,” she says. “And they add texture and mouthfeel as
However, sugar alcohols do create separate challenges,
including reports of consumer gastrointestinal displeasure. “The
major challenge with sugar alcohols is the laxative effect,” Reinhart
says. “By using smaller portions of two or more sugar alcohols, it
allows the developers to come up with products that don’t reach the
threshold that effect for most individual consumers.”
For Kids Sake
High-intensity and sugar alcohol sweetener alternative
options have emerging application importance in kids’ products such
as yogurts, smoothies and flavored milks. “We feel the high-intensity
sweeteners can be used by and for anyone,” Reinhart says.
Alternative sweeteners are frequently deemed an
acceptable way to reduce or completely eliminate high-fructose corn syrup.
Tate & Lyle, for instance, formulates kids’ smoothies and milks
with innovative flavors and textures, including bubble gum- or cotton
candy-flavored milk and blue raspberry smoothies. “Both types of
products are creating high demand for high-intensity sweeteners,”
Reinhart says. “Specifically in flavored milk, we’re also
seeing a desire to get rid of high-fructose corn syrup.”
Just like products for adults, polyols are suitable
for kid-oriented products when used appropriately in formulation,
CPSpecialties’ Gage says. The key is to avoid exceeding the maximum
levels recommended for the polyol being used. “Product developers are
encouraged to work closely with their suppliers to determine the best
polyols and usage levels for their particular kid-targeted
applications,” Gage says. “As with fiber, consumers have
varying sensitivities to polyols; some may never experience any negative
effects at all.”
Cargill recommends slow digestible carbohydrates like
sucromalt and isomaltulose for formulating kid-focused dairy drinks and
yogurt products. “Both sucromalt and isomaltulose have full caloric
value, but they offer a more balanced glycemic response than sucrose. They
give balanced energy without the highs and lows in blood glucose, which is
the case with rapidly digestible carbohydrates,” Nana says, noting
that isomaltulose is additionally considered a “tooth-friendly”
Erythritol features zero glycemic/insulemic, zero
calories and high digestive tolerance, and is additionally suitable and
being utilized in formulations for no-sugar-added or reduced sugar/calorie
dairy products like yogurt, ice cream and smoothies, Nana says.
It is worth noting the lower sugar and calories
derived through high-intensity sweeteners are not always embraced by
gatekeepers. “Parents do not like the idea of feeding their children
foods with artificial ingredients,” Mastertaste’s Riker says.
“Instead, they are seeking products that are natural, but have less
sugar. With their great reputation for health, dairy products are an ideal
To help achieve this goal, Mastertaste offers
processing partners sugar modulators to cost-efficiently create versatile
customized products with healthier formulations, a lower sugar content and
good taste. For instance, Mastertaste’s sugar modulators lower
strawberry milk sugar content by 20 percent, yet the formulation maintains
the flavor in sensory panel scoring.
At the same time, the ongoing development of natural
sweetener aids taps into processors and consumers who prefer to reduce
sugar intake, yet want to avoid high-intensity sweeteners and derivatives,
Nana reports. For instance, erythritol can be advantageous for natural or
organic products. Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., uses it in light
smoothies and light yogurts as a no-calorie, naturally fermented sugar.
As dairy processors consider long-range product
development plans and the organic and natural market becomes further
entrenched, additional options are on the horizon, Nana says. Once natural
high-intensity sweeteners and enhancers are deemed GRAS by the FDA, product
developers can certainly plan to utilize on a mainstream level.
Cathy Sivak is a freelance journalist and a former
editor of Dairy Field.
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