Hitting the Sweet Spot
by Cathy Sivak
Contributing Editor

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 efficiency.
“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.
Sweet Innovation
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 bases.”
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 taste.”
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 sweetness.”
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 well.”
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” sweetener.
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 product.”
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.