Sucrose (i.e., sugar) remains the “gold standard” among all sweeteners. However, when considering novel applications — including approaches to cost reduction, reducing “total sugars” or reducing calories — alternatives to sucrose may be more appropriate.
Considerations include direct effects such as caloric content and indirect effects such as flavor compatibility. Attention to regulatory constraints, including the new 2/3-cup serving size, is always warranted.
When properly formulated, opportunities abound, many of which may not be technically mutually exclusive of each other.
Reducing total sweetness
Frozen desserts may, by design, be over-sweetened ~20-25%, based on theoretical sweetness. But this may not be always the case. For reference, typical relative sweetness might be in the range of 14-17%, calculated as percent sucrose including the contribution to sweetness of lactose.
However, simple reduction of sucrose disrupts the fragile balance related to whipping/freezing, body, texture, flavor(s) delivery and resistance to heat shock. In some instances, slightly more sweetness may be both necessary and desirable.
Managing lactose, other ‘sugars’ in ‘high-protein’ mixes
This means managing the amount/types of milk-solids-not-fat. Crystallization of any “sugars” in frozen desserts may occur.
Keeping lactose and other such sugars well below their maximum solubilities in water helps each withstand the rigors of heat shock. In the meantime, lactose has limited but significant sweetness that may/may not need to be managed. This also applies to other high-protein frozen desserts.
As the amount, type, source and functionality of protein(s) becomes known, so do considerations relative to sweetener selection. Lactose removal, not just lactose reduction, may be necessary. Novel replacement of removed lactose via tactical use of other sugars including sucrose may be possible.
Cost reduction includes possible ingredient cost reduction and yield improvements. Consideration of the markets for high-intensity sweeteners, bulking agents and select polyols can allow for aggressive cost-reduction opportunities without concern related to “sugars” content.
Applying “cost per unit sweetness” can become a guide for economic deployment of various sucrose replacements. In fact, any cost reduction from partial to total replacement of sucrose (or partial replacement of milk solids-nonfat and/or milkfat) may be possible and offer significant cost reductions while retaining compliance with existing standards.
It’s also good to be sensitive to mix densities that may allow current weight-per-unit volume or, for lower-fat options, even lower allowable final weights. The mix most likely will need to be redesigned to take and tolerate up to additional 25-30% overrun.
Reduction in ‘total/added sugars’
A simple reduction up to 25% may be possible for both “total sugars” and “added sugars.” This does not mean no-sugar-added (< 0.5 gram “added sugars”) and true “sugars-free” (< 0.5 gram “total sugars”) frozen desserts are not possible.
Reduction in “added sugars” is tied to a new Daily Value for “added sugars.” This applies to standardized products with inherently high sugar contents such as low-fat ice creams, sherbets, sorbets and water ices. Use of “rare sugars” such as allulose, with properly selected bulking agents, can reduce “total sugars” significantly yet help retain/improve water mobility control, yield and sensory appeal, at reasonable costs.
Opportunities related to the caloric content of frozen desserts have yet to be fully leveraged. Much of the chemistry and physics of reduced/low-calorie concepts are related to the need to design, formulate, manufacture, distribute and offer for sale products to be consumed frozen. This, in turn, requires careful consideration of the physical demands on the product, what may be declared and final sensory appeal.
Balancing all this — with two low-cost, no-calorie components: air and water — can be daunting. With care, reduced (> 25% reductions), low (< 40 calories per serving) and even calorie-free (< 5 calories per serving) formulations are possible. Again, the focus is on delivering adequate intensity/quality of sweetness for any given characterizing flavor while managing textural shelf life.
Alternative sweeteners and bulking agents may allow us to reduce the number of ingredients with non-consumer-friendly ingredient terminologies. In particular, stabilizers and emulsifiers may be reduced, simplified or even eliminated. Care is needed to ensure product eating quality and shelf-life expectations meet, or exceed, consumer expectations.
Leveraging particulate and/or syrup inclusions
Use rates and types of inclusions may allow leveraging of non-sucrose sweeteners to retain (improve?) eating quality and overall sensory appeal of the
ice cream portion of the food.
Non-sucrose sweeteners may be applied in different “locations” in the final food. This means being able to manage and deliver more/less sweetness in any given inclusion.
Given the variety of non-sucrose sweeteners and the amount, type, sweetness intensities, quality, cost (per unit of sweetness), functionalities (such as managing the behavior of liquid water) and near-infinite number of potential combinations, attaining “sucrose-like” sweetness and functionality will remain challenging. All is dependent on the final objectives, viable economics, manufacturing and, ultimately, sensory appeal at the point and time of consumption.