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Sweeten Up With Natural Alternatives

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New FDA regulations will highlight added sugar content on the labels of food and beverages where it can’t be ignored or buried in ingredients lists. Suppliers are responding with sugar substitutes that sweeten the pot in both taste and nutrition.

This past February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced proposed changes to food labeling that will ensure labels more clearly reflect the contents inside, meaning it will be easier than ever for shoppers to assess health benefits (or pitfalls) of a particular product. Specifically, this change stands to make a sizable impact when it comes to sugar content. While the current label simply lists “sugars,” referring to the combined content of natural and added sugars, FDA proposes that the updated label have a new line beneath it calling out “added sugars” specifically, showing consumers the exact amount of sugars added during the production process.

According to the Mayo Clinic, added sugars are the hidden culprit to many Americans’ health problems including weight gain, increased risk of heart disease due to increased triglycerides in the bloodstream, tooth decay and more. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories per day from added sugar, and that men cap off their intake at 150 calories. That’s about six teaSpoons of added sugar for women, and nine for men.

But the truth is that most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day, amounting to approximately 355 extra calories in their daily diets—more than double the recommendation. And while natural products consumers have always demanded healthy alternatives, negative press surrounding added sugar has made its way to the mainstream via television ads and government initiatives, opening up opportunities for manufacturers to cater to a wider range of consumers looking for cleaner profiles from standby products: enter the sugar substitute.

“In general, products high in sugars have been taking a hit from various fronts, particularly as it relates to diabetes and obesity,” explained Scott Turowski, technical sales manager at Sensus America, Inc. in New Jersey. “Proposed regulations requiring ‘added sugars’ to be declared on nutrition facts panels will put more pressure on the industry to seek out ways to improve the nutritional profile of their products.”

“The amount of sugar we consume has become a key focus for the food industry in the last few years,” agreed Marilyn Stieve, business development manager at Wisconsin-based Glanbia Nutritionals. “It is added sugar that is currently under intense scrutiny, not just in the U.S., but in many other Western countries. Pressure is mounting on food manufacturers to try and reduce the amount of sugar that is added to existing food items such as snacks, or develop lower sugar alternatives using non-sucrose sweeteners. With this in mind, we see a promising future for sweetening agents.”

But having a sugar-free substitute isn’t enough anymore as shoppers scour labels with a critical eye for artificial ingredients; the reputation of added sweeteners such as aspartame in particular are taking a public relations hit. “We are seeing a growing backlash against high-intensity chemical sweeteners from the younger generation and millennials. Consumers now have an increased interest in the nature of sweeteners, as well as health and safety concerns associated with sugar consumption,” said Gil Bakal, managing director of New Jerseybased A&B Ingredients, maker of Stevia One. In fact, findings coming out of market research firm Mintel found that aspartame will drop from a value of roughly $385 million in 2013 to $289 million in 2017.

“The average consumer understands the adverse health stigma tagged to traditional [chemical] sweeteners,” agreed Jonathan E. Taylor, sales manager at Hill Pharma Incorporated in New Jersey. “The way our current market trends are going, customers are looking for the cleanest and best-tasting natural sweeteners that are proven safe and currently available.”

Filling this need in the market are natural sweeteners, providing not just taste but also a nutrient profile boasting benefits all their own.

Stevia: Upping the Ante

Thanks to mainstream commercials and availability, stevia remains the frontrunner when it comes to natural sweeteners. According to Mintel’s study, the ingredient has quietly been gaining traction among consumers and even usurping some category top dogs. Researchers found that the value of stevia as an additive in food and beverages totaled $110 million in 2013. By 2017, Mintel estimates this market share will grow to $275 million. In a broader sense, Mintel found that only 5 percent of food and drink products launched using intense sweeteners used solely plant-derived sweeteners in 2009; by 2013, the share of plant-derived sweeteners jumped to 15 percent.

But as suppliers rush to offer the ingredient, it becomes clear that not all stevia is created equal, and that usage is not without its challenges— especially in the natural products industry where shoppers and manufacturers alike hold their ingredients to a higher standard. “Stevia producers have to deal with quality concerns related to consistency of taste and steviol glycosides proportions across batches,” said Bakal. “Assuring stevia quality is aided by growing and harvesting the same variety, thus providing a homogeneous production. This is the ideal solution.” Stevia One is grown in the San Martin region of Peru, which is home to the plant’s natural environment.

Ingredion Incorporated (Westchester, IL) is also meeting consistency concerns with its transparent Eliten Reb A stevia, which is made from a single patented stevia strain. “It’s both grown and manufactured in the Americas, with a fully controlled supply chain from the field to the forumator,” explained Nate Yates, Ingredion’s business director.

“This provides a unique consistency of performance in the end product while maintaining a transparent line of sight all the way up the supply chain.” Enliten is stable under most temperature and pH conditions found in the food industry, making it versatile for a number of finished product applications.

Meeting eco-friendly expectations is yet another area where stevia formulators can rise above the pack. For example, Stevia One plantations are Rainforest Alliance certified, confirming a commitment to preserving natural resources. Stevia One is available as a fine powder and granulated powder, and holds up against heat and acid—as a result, it’s appropriate for use in baked and cooked products.

A Healthy Dose of Sweetness

As consumers demand less sugar, what they’re really asking for is a better nutrient profile. The good news is that many ingredient suppliers are meeting this challenge by killing two birds with one stone: offering a range of natural, sugar-free sweeteners that also boast nutrient benefits of their own.

On many manufacturers’ radars is luo han guo, also known as monk fruit, an ingredient primarily grown in southern China and enjoying a popularity in Chinese diets that dates back hundreds of years. According to Hill Pharma

Incorporated, makers of monk fruit ingredient Mangou-V, the ingredient’s sweetness exceeds that of table sugar by about 200 times or more since it boasts a high mogroside content (and the higher the mogrosides, the less needed to achieve a sweet taste). The company recommends the ingredient for use in “cooling” drinks, used to assist the body during hot weather or during bouts of fever, as a condiment to complement meat, or to produce a refreshing tea.

But what sets the ingredient apart in the industry is its range of health Benefits. A recent study appearing in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that monk fruit boasts anti-inflammatory and even anticarcinogenic properties.

“This product has certainly proven itself as a potential force to replace or at least substitute as a safer, more natural way to sweeten the many products we consume on a daily basis,” said Taylor. “From our research team’s standpoint, it should certainly be the premier natural sweetener of choice moving forward.”

Steviva Brands’ new LoSweet Plus is a unique blend of Erysweet erythritol, monk fruit extract and inulin. “While both Erysweet erythritol and monk fruit extract can stand on their own, the exact combination of the two makes for a granulated or powdered sweetener that has zero calories, tastes and functions like sugar, and is safe for diabetics and consumers looking to reduce their sugar intake,” the company said in a press release.

LoSweet Plus is approximately 2.5 times sweeter than sugar (for use as a 1:2 sugar replacement), is water and ethanol soluble, non-fermentable, resistant to fungal and bacterial spoilage, and is heat stable at 125 degrees Celsius. It has a shelf life of three years at room temperature, and is appropriate in applications such as foods and beverages, gums, baked goods, dietary supplements, powdered drinks, flavors, nutritional bars, and chocolates. The ingredient also comes as 100 mesh, which boasts a texture identical to 10x powdered sugar.

But monk fruit isn’t the only natural sweetener on the market boasting health benefits. Sensus’ most recent sweetener is Frutalose SF75, a chicory root fiber product that is 65 percent as sweet as sugar, yet also contains 75 percent dietary fiber and is half the calories. “Chicory root fiber is supported by numerous clinical studies,” said Turowski. “It is a proven prebiotic fiber and emerging research has also shown that it may support weight management by causing consumers to reduce their daily calorie intake.” Sensus’ chicory root fibers are also non-GMO (genetically modified organism).

“In addition to a taste that is similar to sugar, it also possesses many of the same functional properties allowing it to improve the texture and eating qualities of the products it is used in,” added Turowski, noting that Frutalose SF75 can be used as a direct replacement of sugar in most applications with little to no modification to the product or process. It maintains a soft and chewy texture in bars, but can mask off-tastes in applications such as yogurt.

But it’s not always about replacing sugar—sometimes decreasing sugar is the goal, without compromising the product’s texture or form. OptiSol 2000 is a new milk protein ingredient from Glanbia Nutritionals, which allows formulators to decrease the amount of sugar used in finished products. By increasing protein content, the ingredient will appeal to manufacturers looking for added nutrition in tandem with low-sugar demands. Its unique protein binding capabilities means that it can reduce sugar by up to 50 percent in products such as chewy granola bars, baked bars, snack bars and cereal clusters. “OptiSol 2000 can be incorporated at 0. 5 to 5 percent to create cereal bars and indulgent snack products with up to 50 percent less sugar, which have the same appearance, flavor and texture satisfaction of full sugar products,” explained Stieve. And while reducing sugar in foods often leads to compromised binding structure, Stieve explained that OptiSol 2000 overcomes this by binding water via SugarTrim technology— meaning that more protein can be incorporated into formulations while also creating room for other nutrients such as additional fiber.

Taste-conscious Blends

Despite mainstream publicity, taste is still a barrier when it comes to many sugar substitutes. “The biggest challenge when it comes to sweeteners is designing products that meet consumer expectations in terms of taste. This is particularly true as consumers continue to seek out low-calorie and reduced-sugar products,” explained Turowski. “Simply meeting nutritional demands will prove fruitless if the product doesn’t also taste great. When approaching projects targeted at reducing sugar, combining the benefits of multiple sweeteners is often the best way forward.”

Thom King, president of Oregonbased Steviva Ingredients also cited retaining flavor profiles and mouth feel as a significant challenge when reformulating a product to reduce added sugars.

“This is where a custom sweetening system comes in,” he said. Steviva offers proprietary custom sweetening solutions to clients that address their specific needs, from browning and caramelizing to particle size or even viscosity.

“We evaluate most of our customers’ products and design a sweetener that addresses their specific needs. This sweetener becomes proprietary to them,” King explained. “Additionally, there is much variance in the finished products because instead of adding three or four different types of sweeteners to a recipe, they are adding only one custom sweetener. This gives our customers much greater consistency in the finished good.

Extra! Extra!

Visit www.niemagazine.com to see the latest study linking added sugar to increased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death.


■ A&B Ingredients, (973) 227-1390
■ Glanbia Nutritionals, (608) 316-8500
■ Hill Pharma Incorporated, (973) 521-7400
■ Ingredion Incorporated, (708) 551-2600
■ Sensus America, Inc., (646) 452-6140
■ Steviva Ingredients, (310) 455-9876

Up to the Challenge?

Nutrition Industry Executive asked ingredient suppliers: What are some of your biggest challenges in the sugar substitute market? Here are their top concerns:

Mouth feel: “Whenever full calorie sweeteners are removed, the texture and mouth feel are also affected. In order to mitigate this, a variety of solutions are used in the form of starches and hydrocolloids. These allow for bulk and dispersion to be built back into the system.”

– Nate Yates, Ingredion Incorporated

Price:“Our sweeteners are not the cheapest on the market, so larger manufacturers that have primary concerns of having the cheapest sweeteners added to their products may not make a good fit for us. We target mid-size manufacturers that are more concerned with a high quality and healthy finished products delivered at a fair price with good margins, rather than cutting corners to maximize profits and shareholder returns.” – Thom King, Steviva Ingredients, Inc.

Shelf Life:“Sugar not only provides sweetness, but it also often serves a structural purpose in snacks such as cereal clusters, chewy bars, fruit bars, cakes and cookies. Removing sugar from a formulation can affect the physical and textural properties of a snack product, including shelf life, which can in turn affect consumer acceptance of the product.” – Marilyn Stieve, Glanbia Nutritionals

Education:“Consumer education presents a challenge. The perception of the consumers has changed toward the use of natural sweeteners. But consumers should also be acquainted with the added values that natural sweeteners offer like antioxidant properties.”

– Gil Bakal, A&B Ingredients

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