Consumers have become more aware of the impact of sugar in their food and beverage choices, particularly in frozen desserts. However, sugar reduction in frozen desserts poses a significant challenge since the end-product must maintain the illusion of indulgence, despite containing less sugar.

Across the globe, the anti-sugar movement has been gaining pace. Consumers are demanding indulgence but with a reduced-sugar or no-sugar label. Thus, desserts, both frozen and chilled, are under increasing scrutiny.

According to Mintel, “the market for chilled desserts has seen tough times in recent years, due to growing competition from yogurts and other snacks and treats, which are positioned to deliver a powerful combination of both indulgence and health.” And FMCG Gurus reports that 56% of U.S. purchasers now check the nutritional label of ice creams “most or all of the time.”

With such increased scrutiny, manufacturers are turning to functional ingredients producers for reformulation advice.

Some applications are harder than others for sugar replacement. Food producers need to overcome the challenge of removing fat and sugar, while maintaining the product’s texture and stability over its shelf-life. In consideration of the freeze-thaw cycle, stability of the frozen product must be ensured to prevent large ice crystal formation.

For ice cream, there is the added challenge of achieving the same scoopability of the reformulated product as its full-fat and sugar counterpart. This needs to be achieved while maintaining indulgent taste and creamy texture.

Frozen dessert complexity

Frozen desserts are made up of a complex range of ingredients, tastes and textures that present a range of challenges for reformulators. For example, a luxury ice cream has a couverture, confectionery sauce, chocolate coating and ice cream. Although a sizeable challenge, through the work of recipe reformulation experts, it is now possible to significantly reduce the fat and sugar in even such complex frozen desserts using a range of functional ingredients.

A natural sweetness

It’s been shown that functional fibers such as inulin and oligofructose can be used in recipes to replace sugar and still deliver the indulgent, creamy taste and texture that is expected by consumers. These functional fibers are able to replace sugar, as they help to create a smooth and creamy texture, as well as pleasant taste in reduced-sugar products. Also, depending on the amount of functional fibers that are used in the finished product, producers may be able to make a “source of fiber” claim on-pack, as well as additional health claims, depending on local legislation. 

In reduced sugar ice cream, recipe tests have shown that functional fibers can reduce sugar by 30% compared to the full sugar version. Taste tests have reported no significant differences in appearance, scoopability, sweetness, body and creaminess between the reduced-sugar ice cream and the full-sugar product. 

Fat can also be replaced successfully in frozen desserts. In recipes using inulin as a clean-label fat replacer, 30% fat reduction can be realized, with taste tests confirming that the fat-reduced ice cream had a similar flavor, creamy mouthfeel and body as the full-fat equivalent.  

Interest in healthier variants of traditional products is at an all-time high. But to create products with staying power, manufacturers need to be sure that they are not removing indulgence. That means creating reduced-fat and reduced-sugar products that taste as good as their regular counterparts. By capitalizing on the expertise of recipe formulators, manufacturers can deliver products that may be reduced in sugar and lower in fat, but not lacking in fun.