A Spoonful of What?
by Lori Dahm
Sweetener alternatives abound for possible sugar reduction in products.

Creating dairy foods that have a reduced sugar quotient is a rapidly changing field today, thanks to the dénouement of the low-carb fad. However, although the Atkins diet may be falling by the wayside, consumers are still seeking products that offer a lowered sugar content.
Trends in the dairy case and frozen dessert aisle are moving toward the “light” label, products that boast a reduced-calorie load or fat content, or products billed as the newly popular “no sugar added.”
But taking the sugar out of products is not a straightforward proposition. For one, although options in high-intensity sweeteners abound, current sentiment among consumers include taste preferences that preclude some of these ingredients. Moreover, the movement toward natural and organic products is diametrically opposed to high intensity sweetener proliferation.
A new picture in the world of sweetener alternative ingredients for dairy products is currently under development. Consumers are looking for products that offer a reduction in calories, but they are interested in exploring sweetener options to high-intensity ingredients such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose products.
As a result, sweetener alternatives such as the sugar alcohols, or polyols, are being explored in full force, as well as new natural products. Although using such sweeteners is not easy to navigate, today’s demand for reduced calorie foods and healthier options is being met by increased expertise from manufacturers, who are offering new technologies and ingredients in sweetener alternatives that are filling the gap, sometimes literally, in reduced-sugar formulations.
High Intensity
It is not an easy matter to create low-calorie, no-calorie or reduced-calorie products using a sweetener ingredient. Replacing sugar requires that the functional characteristics of sugar — such as bulk, browning and taste — be met and balanced by the correct combination of high intensity sweeteners, polyols or other low-calorie sweeteners. Understanding how to achieve this balance is no small feat.
High-intensity sweeteners are still an oft-used solution to creating low-calorie foods, but taste obstacles often are problematic when using these ingredients; the aftertaste or lingering effects of these sweeteners can be undesirable. Some new technologies for low-calorie foods are designed to help offset these negative sensory effects.
“Most products that use high-intensity sweeteners will use a blend of these ingredients to account for the taste differences, but even so, the sweetness is slightly different in its flavor profile than what you would get from a full-sugar product,” says Markus Eckert, vice president of technical, flavors, Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J. “We have developed sweetener enhancers and sugar extenders — natural flavors that function as part of a complete flavor system to interact with the taste receptors on the tongue to potentiate the ‘sweet’ flavor signals and to achieve the desired flavor profile.”
These products do not replace the sugar or the high-intensity sweeteners in a system, but are instead designed to help compensate for sweetness intensity in sugar products and the taste profile in diet products.
“When using high-intensity sweeteners, some of those ingredients deliver a bitter aftertaste or an artificial chemical off-note, and our natural flavor modulators compensate for those profiles so the taste is closer to a full-sugar profile,” Eckert says. “But these ingredients must be customized for each formulation, because once you play with taste perception on the tongue, you alter other aspects of the product’s taste and flavor profile.”
Frozen Tundra
Of course, much of the movement in the sweetener alternative field is toward the use of the sugar alcohols, either alone or sometimes paired with the high-intensity ingredients. Considerations when using the sugar alcohols include the necessity to replace the bulk of sugar, and accounting for differences in the polyol sweetness levels versus sugar. Certain sugar alcohol ingredients are particularly well-suited for the texture attributes of dairy products and applications.
“Litesse has been used in many no-sugar-added and light ice creams for years, and can be used without sacrificing creaminess, smoothness or taste,” says Donna Brooks, product manager at Danisco Sweeteners, Elmsford, N.Y. “Litesse exhibits a favorable effect on the freezing point of an ice cream mix, and modification of textural qualities such as hardness and softness may be achieved by using combinations of Litesse with other sugars or polyols such as lactitol.”
The three sugar replacers that Danisco offers — Litesse, lactitol and Xylitol — are often used in various combinations with the high-intensity sweeteners, together accounting for the bulk of sugar and delivering desired texture attributes. Lactitol has a similar freezing point depression to sugar, so it is often used to replace sucrose in ice cream to give products the same scooping characteristics, as well as imparting a compatible sweetness and mouthfeel because it is derived from milk lactose.
The frozen dessert segment within the no-sugar-added (NSA) proposition has exploded within the past year. More ingredients have come to the fore that help ice cream manufacturers account for sugar replacement in formulations while also delivering the taste and texture of full-fat ice creams.
“Many of the NSA ice creams that are currently on the market contain a combination of sorbitol or lactitol, polydextrose, maltodextrin and a high-intensity sweetener to replace the sucrose and corn syrup. However, our Maltisweet IC Maltitol Syrup was created specifically for NSA and reduced sugar ice cream applications, and can be used as the sole sweetening agent,” says Clement Opawumi, senior food scientist at SPI Polyols, New Castle, Del. “Maltitol syrup replaces the bulk solids of sugar, has no aftertaste, is 90 percent as sweet as sugar and delivers a sweetness profile that is preferred to the high-intensity ingredients.”
Maltisweet IC Maltitol Syrup is a combination of maltitol sugar alcohol, diglycerides and polysaccharides, which together yield a molecular weight that is remarkably close to that of sugar. 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.
“Products that replace sugar but alter the freezing point depression can suffer from one of two problems: Either the freezing point depression is shifted lower, which means the finished product is softer and more water is frozen into the mix resulting in an icy and cold texture,” Opawumi says. “Or on the other extreme you have products with a high freezing point, which means the finished products are gummy and runny. Balancing the freezing point is extremely important when replacing sugar, and this syrup is optimal in this regard.”
Culturally Speaking
One of the trends in cultured dairy products within the past year was the use of sweetener alternatives in yogurts; many of the newest drinkable yogurts and cup yogurt products had the label banner “light” and a corresponding reduction of sugar and lower calorie counts.
While sugar alcohols can be used in these products, other new ingredients are making inroads for use in this dairy segment, offering alternative advantages. For example, some of these sweetener alternative ingredients avoid the tolerance level considerations that are sometimes an aspect of formulating with the polyols.
New dairy products on the market in Europe are incorporating a new ingredient, Palatinose, a disaccharide derived from sucrose that acts as a functional carbohydrate to replace traditional sugars like sucrose. This sweetener alternative is metabolized differently from sucrose by the body because its chemical molecular properties are rearranged when it is manufactured so the body digests the ingredient much more slowly. This results in an ingredient with a very low glycemic response and low insulinemic response to deliver a prolonged energy supply as glucose.
“Palatinose can be used in dairy applications like milk-based beverages, yogurt-based beverages and yogurt. With its slow release into the blood stream, this ingredient extends energy and satiety when used in dairy applications,” says Debra Bryant, director of business development and technical services, Palatinit of America, Morris Plains, N.J. “This ingredient is a sugar and is broken down by the same enzymes that the body employs to utilize sucrose, so there are no tolerance issues. Since the hydrolysis of Palatinose takes significantly longer than sucrose, it is supplying a constant stream of energy to the muscles and brain over an extended period of time.”
One product recently launched in Spain from Danone is Danao with Palatinose, which has the label banner “long-lasting energy” on the front panel. In Asia, Palatinose is in Bifiene from Yakult in Japan, where it is used for its functional properties as a stabilizing and masking agent in combination with probiotics, soy and omega-3 fatty acids. The possibilities for Palatinose abound  because its slow release into the blood stream promotes metabolic fat oxidation, so the mobilization of stored fat and the use of fatty acids result, making Palatinose an ideal ingredient for weight-control applications.
Here in the United States, erythritol is being used in more dairy applications, particularly because the label claims it affords can be advantageous for natural or organic products. Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., uses erythritol in the company’s line of light smoothies and light yogurts, billing the ingredient as a no-calorie, naturally fermented sugar.  
“Erythritol is manufactured by a natural fermentation process, unlike other sugar alcohols which undergo catalytic chemical hydrogenation. There are also organic versions of erythritol available,” says Ravi Nana, technical specialist for polyols for Cargill’s Sweetness Solutions business, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Erythritol has high digestive tolerance, a low glycemic and insulineamic index and zero calories. For many dairy applications, erythritol functions to replace the bulk of solids.”
Erythritol has a relative sweetness of 70 percent, which means it is usually balanced by other high-intensity sweeteners in formulation to achieve the desired sweetness level. In frozen desserts, the replacement of sugar’s bulk is necessary to maintain total solids and control the freezing point.
“Stonyfield Farm is getting very positive feedback from consumers who are excited about having a product in the natural channel that is lower in sugar and calories,” says Joe Klemaszewski, senior food scientist for dairy applications at Cargill’s Texturizing Solutions Business. “Better-for-you products have shown strong growth recently. Both reduced-calorie and reduced-sugar products are included in this category, and organic and natural products demonstrate long-term growth as a trend into the foreseeable future.”
It is this natural segment and designation which might pose the biggest challenge, but also the most promising opportunity for the future of reduced-sugar dairy products. With new attention on obesity, there is a call to create products that stay away from the high-intensity sweeteners.
“The health of children has become a paramount concern, and although parents want a refined sugar reduction as much as possible, there is a general perception in the market right now that negatively reflects upon high-intensity sweeteners in products for kids,” says Steve Phelps, technical manager of natural products at Mastertaste. “This is where new natural sweetener alternatives have a future opportunity as a preferred sugar replacement.”
Mastertaste has developed sweetening ingredients that are based on honey, molasses and maple sugar. Although the ingredients do not provide calorie reduction, they present the opportunity to remove high-fructose corn syrup from labels.  
The natural sweetener alternative route is one to track, as the quest for healthier products continues to gain momentum. In the meantime, sweetener alternatives and formulations that offer a calorie reduction and sugar replacement are lucrative and viable segments of the dairy industry.
“The reduced-sugar products like low sugar and sugar reduced seem to have staying power,” Eckert says. “This change is probably because there is more concern about artificial sweeteners and their effects upon health in the long term. Our market data shows a clear trend toward developing products that are absent of those artificial sweeteners but still offer some reduction in the level of sugar, offering consumers products that answer their overall concerns about health and well being.”