A product?s success in the marketplace strongly depends on how well it meets consumers? taste expectations. Bill Riha, PhD, tells how to build better diet foods and drinks by blending natural sugar alternatives
Foods and beverages that combine health benefits with great taste are often met with disappointment from consumers. For many, low- or reduced-calorie products imply reduced taste expectations. Today, these low expectations are not warranted if an individually optimised sweetening system is used to achieve sugar-like taste. Different sweetener blends can provide consumers with both optimum taste and minimal calories.
Although true dieters accept the typical taste of diet products, they would appreciate a more regular-like taste. Additionally, there?s a growing group of consumers who are weight conscious but unwilling to compromise on taste. In terms of sweet taste, sugar or high fructose corn syrup are still the gold standards. Therefore, the sweetening system has to be carefully chosen to compete with this. Only sweetener blends can achieve the desired sugar-like taste profile as a result of qualitative synergistic interaction of the different sweetness profiles.
When developing or reformulating the sweetening system for a complete range of products, most manufacturers seek to avoid the expense of separately testing all the possible sweetener combinations and blend ratios for every single flavour in a product line. Instead, they develop one sweetening system that is used in all products — for example, a range of reduced-calorie soft drinks. This ?one size fits all? approach may deliver short-term savings, but neglects to take one crucial factor into account: the interaction at a taste level that occurs between the sweeteners and different flavourings. More often than not, using a ?universal blend? means wasting valuable opportunities for taste optimisation.
High-intensity sweetener manufacturers can recommend individual flavour-specific initial blend recommendations for a wide range of food and beverage applications.
The taste test
An extensive and representative survey conducted in the US showed a growing band of health- and weight-conscious consumers who drink both diet and full-sugared (regular) beverages. While diet drinks are consumed for weight reasons, regular beverages are preferred when taste is paramount. Soft drinks combining the sweetness profile of a regular drink with reduced-calorie content would therefore be ideally positioned to capture the growing segment of taste-orientated health- and weight-conscious drinkers.
The emergence of a growing bank of consumers who drink both diet and regular drinks prompted Nutrinova to examine the feasibility of replacing a higher proportion of the sugar content. The aim was to create sugar-like sweetening systems for soft drinks with a reduced sugar level but without compromising on taste. Earlier research commissioned by the company showed that substituting half of the sugar and replacing it with only one high-intensity sweetener in a carbonated soft drink had a more negative influence on taste, potentially alienating consumers for whom flavour is paramount.
The technical study used a commercially available lemon-lime flavour, acidified with 2.5g/l citric acid and carbonation of 6.3g/l. As well as sugar, formulations containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 55 and HFCS 42) were included to reflect the different taste expectations of other relevant markets, such as the US and Latin America.
Sugar/HFCS was reduced by 50 per cent, 65 per cent and 80 per cent, using different high-intensity sweetener blends to provide desired sweetness. The combinations tested are exhibited in the chart below.
Each drink was assigned a three-digit code prior to being sampled by a panel of 12 trained tasters specialised in sweetness detection and evaluation. The results were recorded by a computerised data input system and analysed using ANOVA and PCA methodologies.
The optimum combination for partial sugar replacement was a blend of sugar, acesulfame-K (Sunett) and aspartame or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), ace-K and sucralose (Splenda). HFCS/ace-K/aspartame successfully replicated the sweetness and flavour profile of HFCS-based beverages.
A soft drink?s success ultimately depends on whether consumers enjoy the final product. A further sensory test was convened with a group of 24 consumers, asking them to record any perceived difference between full-sugar beverages and those in which sugar is partially replaced by a high-intensity sweetener. Specific blends of interest proved not to be significantly different.
The results indicate that it is possible to partially replace sugar in order to reduce calorie content while maintaining a premium taste profile. This heralds exciting opportunities for manufacturers keen to cater to the demands of an emerging band of health- and weight-conscious drinkers.
Baked goods and snacks can also benefit from replacing sugar content with a blend of high-intensity sweeteners. Good heat and storage stability over a wide pH range, stability under baking and extrusion cooking conditions, and, of course, taste characteristics allow the use of high-intensity sweeteners in various applications where stable sweetness is vital. This includes cakes, biscuits, muffins and bakery fillings. Some sweeteners have limitations due to poor stability, whereas others have high solubility for ease of incorporation into dough or pre-mix.
In baked goods and snacks, the use of ace-K in addition to sucralose provided a more sugar-like taste than using sucralose alone. This stems from the reduction of lingering sweet taste and more ?upfront? impact sweetness. Based on testing and experience with these applications, blends — in which both sweeteners contribute 50 per cent of the sweetness — provide the best overall taste. Blending ace-K with sucralose in these applications may also lead to cost savings and may aid in relieving short supplies of sweeteners.
In many baked goods, sugar plays an integral role in the texture of the finished product. In sugar-free baked goods, this functional property of sugar is generally achieved through the use of polyols and bulking agents.
Gone are the days when gum was just about chewing. Consumers are increasingly looking for a multifunctional product. Spurred on by the enduring success of functional foods, gum manufacturers have capitalised on the potential for gums that fulfil a specific health function. Gums made with guarana, spirulina and taurine, or gums with added vitamins and calcium are found among the functional gum products on the market.
Intense sweeteners play a key role in the development of these products as ?tooth friendly? alternatives to sugar. By contrast to sugar, which is cariogenic, high-intensity and bulk sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay. This is particularly important because chewing gum remains in the mouth much longer than other products, making the risk to dental health much greater.
High-intensity sweeteners and bulk sweeteners, for example polyols such as malitol, xylitol and sorbitol, enable manufacturers to provide superior taste due to the distinctive synergies produced. Identifying the optimal blend is, of course, dependent on a number of factors such as flavour, other ingredients and processing methods.
Although the drive for healthy diets and weight consciousness is gathering speed, there?s also an increasing unwillingness of consumers to compromise on taste. The choice of a sweetening system has a significant effect on a product?s taste profile — and may ultimately contribute to its success in the marketplace. When reducing or fully replacing the sugar content, sweetening experts can be reliable partners for food manufacturers in advising on best blending opportunities for the individual product?s success.
Bill Riha, PhD, is head of technical and regulatory affairs at Nutrinova Inc, an international supplier of speciality ingredients, including acesulfame-K under the brand name Sunett. Its headquarters are in Frankfurt, Germany. www.nutrinova.com Respond: [email protected]