Low carb. Gluten free. The more than 24 million Americans living with diabetes, a number expected to double by 2050. These are just a few of the markets clamoring for delicious baked goods and confections that are light on the sugar, calories and carbohydrates. According to the HealthFocus International 2010 Trend Study of shopper attitudes and behaviors toward health and nutrition, 74 percent of consumers are interested in buying or using food and drink to manage their blood-sugar levels.
Diego Darquea, director of research and development at BakeMark USA, said the most innovative area of new product launches is in the bakery/cereals segment with low-glycemic index foods, and added fiber and functional ingredients. While diabetic product launches in Europe are occurring in bakery, the U.S. is focused on confections.
"In the '70s to '80s, food became a focus of possibilities for diabetics to live a ‘normal' life," said Darquea. "That's when we shifted to sugar-free. But the problem is sugar-free doesn't touch on the carbohydrate piece. Natural sweeteners come into play not only to provide the taste, but to work hand-in-hand with functional ingredients on the glycemic index side of the equation."
Non-diabetics often want to avoid empty calories and empty calories come from sugar, said Darquea. Sugar alcohols have been used for decades to commercially produce confections such as chewing gum and gummy bears; now they're starting to make their way into the bakery category. The unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your gut health) side effect of most of these: they're laxatives. Darquea said some of the most common natural sweeteners launched in products in the past five years include:
Erythritol – sugar alcohol that is a fermentation byproduct of corn. 70 percent the sweetness of sucrose.
Inulin – Prebiotic fiber routinely used in the mainstream food world because it adds a low-calorie sweetness element in addition to its other functional benefits. 70 percent the sweetness of sucrose.
Isomalt – from beets. Has low glycemic index. 45-65 percent the sweetness of sucrose.
Maltitol –made by hydrogenation of maltose obtained from starch. 75-90 percent sweetness of sucrose with low glycemic index.
Sorbitol – from fruits. Used as a humectant and thickener in non-food applications. Functions as cryo-protectant. 60 percent the sweetness of sucrose.
- Xylitol –from fibers. Has an "antimicrobial" property that is a nice side benefit in baking applications. 100 percent as sweet as sucrose.
"All of these have been around a lot longer than stevia and they're used a lot more," said Darquea. "Stevia's a newcomer." Indeed, the 2010 HealthFocus study reported that 47 percent of shoppers are aware of stevia.