By Charlotte Atchley
As Len Heflich wrote in a column in the June issue of Baking & Snack, consumers are well on their way to demonizing yet another critical ingredient to the baking industry — this time sugar. Attitudes about sugar and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s latest “Added Sugar” line on nutrition labels have bakers trying to cut the level of sugar in baked foods. But consumers aren’t willing to compromise on what they perceive to be sugar’s No. 1 role: taste. However, sugar isn’t just providing sweetness to desserts.
“Taste is not only the sweetness from the sugar,” said Andy Estal, director of consumer technical service, Americas region, Beneo. “Taste describes the overall eating experience. Moistness, hardness, crunchiness, texture, flavors and sweetness all play into the balance when looking at reducing sugar.”
Remove sugar from a dessert and there is not only a loss of flavor but also a loss of function. Cookie spreading, aeration in cakes, browning, bulk, texture and shelf life all depend on sugar.
“It takes a holistic and balanced approach to reduce sugar and get the taste and texture right,” said Bill Gilbert, certified master baker and principal food technologist, Cargill. “However, the more we understand how a formula’s components work together for flavor, sweetness and texture, the better we are able to provide solutions to our customers.”
Bakers have many tools today to lessen the sugar levels in desserts while still providing consumers the eating experience they’ve come to expect. Choosing the right set of ingredients requires understanding how sugar operates in a formulation and how to make up for lost sweetness.
Hammering out objectives
Sugar’s functional attributes in bakery applications are vast, but in specific formulations, it may only be performing a handful of roles.
“The best place to start when looking at sugar reduction is to consider the key role that sugar is playing in that particular application,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America. “Sugars provide a number of functional benefits that contribute to texture, mouthfeel and taste, and different sources of sugar also deliver a different combination of benefits to the finished product.”
Sugar contributes to shelf life by absorbing extra moisture and stopping bacterial growth. It can increase dough yield and softness through fermentation. In the oven, as water is removed, sugar is recrystallized, helping create a crisp texture. It also helps with visual appearance by facilitating the Maillard reaction, which results in the browning or caramelization effect that is so often desired in baked foods. It also can delay the coagulation of eggs or gelatinization of the crumb.
With all that sugar can do, it’s important for bakers to consider the application as well as the desired quality and consistency of the product when reformulating for sugar reduction, said Kathy Sargent, strategic innovation director, Corbion.
“In addition to ensuring the flavor, texture and quality of their products, bakery manufacturers must consider how a reduction in sugar could impact ease of handling and shelf-life stability,” she said.
Knowing which of these roles sugar is performing in a particular dessert is critical.
“Bakers need to consider which ingredients are acceptable for replacement,” said Peggy Dantuma, director, bakery technical sales and services, Kerry Ingredients. “Fibers, both artificial and natural, can be used for bulking agents as well as polyols.”
Taste is one side of the coin of sugar reduction; function is the other. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for addressing all these needs.
“This requires taking a holistic approach to product development to address functionality without losing sight of taste and sweetness while also ensuring nutrition targets such as calories or added sugars are considered,” said Mark Floerke, project lead, bakery and culinary applications, ADM.
Tightening flavor profiles
Consumers won’t buy desserts that don’t taste good, and they often equate “reduced sugar” with “tastes bad.” This puts taste as the No. 1 priority when slashing sugar in dessert formulations.
“Many functional bulk ingredients have lower sweetness levels compared to sucrose,” explained Didem Icoz, Ph.D., business scientist, global sweetener R.&D., Ingredion Inc. “To balance out the lost sweetness, high-potency sweeteners (HPS) can be used. Different from bulk ingredients, HPS are hundreds or even thousands of times sweeter than sucrose.”
Many of these HPS are also non-caloric, she said, either because of the miniscule amounts needed in a formulation or their molecular make-up.
These sweeteners can be derived naturally or artificially. Artificial sweeteners include the widely used aspartame, acesulfame-K and sucralose as well as saccharin, cyclamates, alitame and neotame. Natural HPS have gained a lot of momentum in the clean label movement, particularly stevia and monk fruit. Stevia is 150 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, and monk fruit is about 200 times sweeter.
Naturally derived HPS come with the downside of bitter off-notes or aftertastes that must be accommodated. Ingredient suppliers can combat this with customized sweeteners or masking agents.
“For most HPS, there is a sweetness threshold,” Dr. Icoz said. “As the sweetness level increases, so too do any off-tastes such as any additional sweetness to be perceived.”
These off notes can be addressed by focusing on certain steviol glycosides in stevia plants. Reb M and Reb D have cleaner tastes with less bitterness and aftertaste than other stevial glycosides like Reb A, Dr. Icoz explained. Ingredion’s Bestevia Reb M and Reb D are derived from the stevia plant with a proprietary process aimed to deliver a high purity level and better sweetness experience, Dr. Icoz said.
PureCircle’s proprietary stevia leaf variety, Starleaf, contains more than 20 times the sugar-like steviol glycoside content compared to standard stevia.
“This enables bakers and developers to reach deeper levels of sugar reduction in their baked goods with a plant-based sweetener,” said John Martin, senior director of global technical innovation, PureCircle.
Cargill’s next-generation stevia line, ViaTech, uses a proprietary model to predict the right combination of steviol glycosides to deliver improved sweetness and flavor dynamics as compared to earlier Reb A stevia options.
Allulose is another naturally derived sweetener that is relatively new on the scene.
“Allulose as a single compound is about 70% as sweet as sugar,” said Thom King, c.e.o. and president of Icon Foods. “It functions like sugar in every way, including browning, activation of leavening and participation in the Maillard reaction.”
Icon Foods’ KetoseSweet+ combines allulose with stevia and monk fruit to bring the sweetness level inline with that of sugar with less than 10% of the calories.
Sometimes it can take a systems approach to replace the sweetness of sugar, mask any off-notes and restore mouthfeel. Ihab Bishay, Ph.D., senior director of new business development, Ajinimoto USA, suggested blending a clean-tasting sweetener with enhancers and modifiers to find the right taste.
To achieve the correct flavor, mouthfeel and texture after reducing sugar, Kerry Ingredients uses its TasteSense portfolio solutions. These ingredients deliver the flavor and work, along with other ingredients, to replace all that sugar does.
Drilling down on function
Flavor is only one side of the sugar reduction conversation.
“Replacing the sweetness is easy with high-potency natural or artificial sweeteners,” Mr. Estal said. “Replacing the bulking effect and functionality of sugar in the formula is very difficult.”
Multiple ingredients will always be needed to mimic the lost functionality and flavor of sugar.
“Such systems, when customized by sweetener scientists working in tandem with product developers, will perform with exacting specificity to address a complex of specified parameters in a formulation,” Dr. Icoz said.
Ingredion’s DIAL-IN Sweetness & Texture Technology process walks bakers through the sugar reduction process.
“Applying the process to sugar reduction allows the development team to take advantage of the expertise in sweeteners and texture solutions Ingredion offers while ensuring a trackable system for fine-tuning or later reformulation,” Dr. Icoz said.
Working closely with suppliers can ensure bakers balance function and taste effectively in reduced sugar desserts. Ms. Sargent said Corbion collaborates with bakers to tailor formulas to specific application and consumer needs.
“While we do not specialize in sugar substitutes, we offer a variety of solutions to help bakery manufacturers maintain the flavor, texture, quality, ease-of-handling and shelf-life stability of their products,” she said.
Chicory root fiber has proven to be a useful tool when it comes to replacing some of the functions of sugar in bakery applications. It offers bulk and functionality without contributing to the sugar line of the Nutrition Facts Panel.
“This allows for both sugar and total calorie reduction compared to alternatives,” Mr. Estal said.
Chicory root fiber contributes humectancy while being as sweet as 65% of sucrose and containing 75% dietary fiber. This has made it the center of many of Sensus America’s sugar reduction product launches. It also works synergistically with HPS, masking any aftertaste present from these sweeteners.
Cargill also employs its Oliggo-Fiber chicory root fiber in conjunction with Zerose erythritol and ViaTech stevia to deliver sweetness, tenderness and mouthfeel in baked foods.
“In many bakery applications, this trio of ingredients can successfully replace the functionality of sugar, keep cost-of-use in check and deliver on consumer preferences,” Mr. Gilbert said.
To deliver the expected finished dessert with less sugar, bakers must put together the right sugar reduction toolbox — a combination of both sweet flavor and bulking function.