Sweeteners: the taste of success

As sweetener science evolves into third-generation applications, look for increased use of blends; protein-derived sources; and compounds that also take into account a taste profile with little or no bitter, sour or metallic properties. Mark J Tallon, PhD, surveys the landscape

Following the launch of the first noncaloric sweetener, saccharin, which was discovered in 1879, the impact of its bitter aftertaste spawned the search for reduced-calorie and improved-taste substitutes.

The breakthrough came with cyclamate, which when blended with saccharin became known commercially as Sweet'N Low. However, the use of cyclamate was cut short following safety concerns from animal studies leading to its removal from the market by the Food and Drug Administration. This early market exit gave rise to Nutra-Sweet (aspartame) and a host of associated marketing claims such as 'diet' and 'light.'

The present market is now laden with so-called second-generation sweeteners, including acesulfame-K, alitame, neotame and sucralose, which provide a more realistic mouthfeel than their predecessors. But what is the next generation of sweeteners and when will it enter the market place? And what are the current sweetener issues driving commercial success?

Emerging trends
At present, many mainstream categories are bouncing with definitions that bring about beneficial consumer perspectives — organic, Kosher, low-GI, calorie-free/reduced, zero calorie. When it comes to the sweeteners market, all these definitions are pushing brand awareness but none more so than the debate of 'natural' vs 'synthetic.' The obvious natural sweetener is honey but other sweeteners include agave, lo han extracts (mogroside), thaumatin extract (katemfe fruit), and stevia or steviosides (S. rebaudiana extracts).

Recently, Beyond*Sugar, a plant glycoside-based low-GI sweetener from Quantum Food Systems, has played the natural card extensively in their pre- and post-release marketing campaigns. This GRAS-approved substance contains no sugar alcohols or synthetic chemicals, and has suggested uses including the ability to nutritionally fortify foods and beverages with vitamins, minerals, omega-3 oils, and other nutrients and bio-active ingredients, transported in Beyond*Sugar's structure. This disaccharide also brings a selection of claims with it, including caloric, glycaemic and health claims for diabetic, obesity and cardiovascular-type health complications.

However, caution must be taken when considering these miracle sweetener claims. One such sweetener that has had a sting in its tail is the tooth-friendly Gaio Tagatose (extracted from milk-based lactose) from SweetGredients, Gmbh and Co. Once touted as the next-best low-calorie sweetener, Gaio Tagatose came with a host of structure/function and nutrient claims. However, its activity in the marketplace seems to be dying a slow death of late. SweetGredients has recently decided to close down the manufacturing of tagatose in Nordstemmen, Germany. The lesson here is when an ingredient sounds too good to be true, it often is!

Madhava Agave Nectar
Beyond the functional and structure-like claims made by many of these sweeteners, some brands are jumping onboard other recognisable consumer-friendly issues. Madhava Agave Nectar is one such sweetener that has pushed past the typical low-GI (high in fructose) claim in an attempt to find an alternate marketing niche to help it stand out from the general sweetener crowd. This agave nectar has marketed a manufacturing process that allows the use of buyer-friendly messages including organic and Kosher.

Of note, the organic and Kosher supply chains have grown by some 23 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, per annum over the past 10 years.1,2 Increased consumer awareness and interest in organic and Kosher products should give sufficient return on their manufacturing investment and subsequent certification.

One additional sweetener is the multi-functional Frutafit and Frutalose from Sensus (a business unit of the Royal Cosun Group). These highly soluble dietary prebiotic fibres are low-calorie/low-GI alternatives to sugar and fat with numerous health-related benefits including function claims such as 'aids in the bioavailability of minerals.'

It may be only a matter of time until we see sweeteners with 'reduces cholesterol' claims
Frutafit and Frutalose inulin/fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS) are soluble, dietary fibres with texturising properties that provide added health benefits. Inulin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate (a polydisperse GFn molecule) in more than 36,000 plants, including common vegetables like artichokes, onions and garlic. It is built as a linear chain of fructose units by means of beta-(2-1) bonds, having one terminal glucose molecule. It is the addition of this glucose molecule that gives it its sweet taste and thus an application in the sweetener market.

This is a good example of a product with functional applications as a sugar replacement outside of only taste. With some sweetener manufacturers making a beeline toward plant glycosides, it may be only a matter of time until we see sweeteners with 'reduces cholesterol' claims as part of its package.

Another sugar alcohol with benefits beyond sweetness is xylitol. Its caloric delivery is 2.4kcal/g (compared to sucrose at 4kcal/g), but it metabolises in a dissimilar manner — likely because it has five carbon sugars instead of six as with other natural sweeteners. This molecular difference is the key to some of xylitol's properties. One unique aspect is bacterial salivary organisms do not feed, grow or ferment on xylitol as they do on other simple sugars. "We do toothpaste and mints and gums and mouthwash," says John Mills, CEO of Foods Endo Research, a xylitol supplier. "We also supply liquid drinks because it's sweet and it's pharmaceutical grade. It blends like silk."

In both clinical and field studies, consuming xylitol between meals has been correlated directly with significantly reduced formation of new dental cavities, even when participants are already practising good oral hygiene.3

Where is the science?
Over the past few months we have been inundated with articles on sweeteners. However, few point to new sweetener science or indeed any science that might help shed light on possible product claims or novel applications. However, there are data available on some interesting areas of sweetener applications, including appetite control and factors affecting taste.

Pre-loads of xylitol and polydextrose cause a mild increase in satiety
Calorie control and sweeteners: One study assessed the independent and combined effect of two speciality carbohydrates (polydextrose and xylitol) on appetite. 4 Eight female and seven male lean volunteers were recruited and were supplied daily for 10 days with a yoghurt formulation consisting of: control of yoghurt + 25g sucrose (C); yoghurt + 25g xylitol (X); yoghurt + 25g polydextrose (P); and yoghurt + 12.5g xylitol (XP) and 12.5g polydextrose.

On days 1 and 10, the short- and medium-term effects of yoghurt consumption were assessed by measuring lunch intake and subjective motivation to eat. The three experimental yoghurts (X, P and XP) brought about a slight suppression of energy intake compared with the control yoghurt (C). These differences were not statistically significant. However, when the energy content of the yoghurt pre-loads were accounted for, there was a significant suppression of energy intake for P compared with C.

The XP yoghurt induced a significantly stronger satiating effect (increase in subjective fullness) compared with C, both with and without the differential in energy content of the yoghurt pre-loads accounted for. This study demonstrated that pre-loads of xylitol and polydextrose cause a mild increase in satiety (feeling of fullness) and suppression of energy intake, and that the effects persist even after repeated daily intake. The usefulness of xylitol and polydextrose as ingredients in functional foods for appetite control are as a result of their lower energy content and suppression of appetite.

Taste perception: In the second study on sweeteners, a group of food scientists at Ohio State University presented at the March 2006 American Chemical Society meeting.5 They investigated what was the most important factor for people choosing a sweetener. The study asked 30 college students to rate 13 different sweeteners and sweet substances (including sugar) over three sessions regarding perception of being bitter, sour or metallic. The sweeteners that participants liked best had no or next to no sour, bitter or metallic tastes.

This evidence may shift research in a slightly different direction. Instead of looking for compounds that match the sweetness of sugar, product developers may want to also look for compounds that more closely resemble the perception (or lack thereof) of bitter, sour and metallic tastes.

How sweet it is
The emergence of botanical glycosides and similar natural sweeteners is evolving the sweetener market once again. Although consumers in the past have been shaken over possible health risks from artificial sweetener use,6 recent reviews may help belay these concerns in a society craving sugar at a rapidly increasing rate.7

New generations of low-calorie sweeteners with functional health attributes may even not derive from plants or carbohydrate sources, but perhaps even from proteins. The sweet protein brazzein is one such example. It is isolated from the smoked and dried berries of the plant Pentadiplandra brazzeana. The protein can be used alone or in combination with other sweeteners to sweeten the taste of foods. Its popularity is on the increase and research on its action on taste is becoming more in evidence.8 Given recent trends, we should see more modification of chemical structures of current sweeteners to match specific foods, as with maltitol syrup and its modifications for ice cream.

As sweetener science evolves into third-generation applications, the use of combination sweetener products will become commonplace in our industry. These mixed sweetener combos will take advantage of nutritive, perceptive and functional advantages of natural sweetener combinations and use movements in consumer awareness in organic and Kosher processing to their advantage. So when asked about the future of sugar replacement, I just say it all looks sweet.

Mark J Tallon, PhD, is chief science officer of OxygeniX, a London-based consultancy firm specialising in claims substantiation, product development and technical writing. www.oxygenix.com
Dr Tallon is also co-founder of Cr-Technologies, a raw ingredients supplier. www.cr-technologies.net
Respond: [email protected]

1. No Author. Market Research Report: NBJ's Organic Foods Report 2004: Nutrition Business Journal. 2004 California (San Diego), USA.
2. No Author. Market Research Report: Kosher Foods Market - US Report: Mintel International Group, Ltd 2003, Chicago, USA.
3. Nabors LO'B. Sweet choices: sugar replacements for foods and beverages. Food Technol 2002; 56:28-34,45.
4. King NA, et al. Evaluation of the independent and combined effects of xylitol and polydextrose consumed as a snack on hunger and energy intake over 10 d. Br J Nutr 2005; 93(6):911-5.
5. Delwiche JF, Warnock AR. Relating sweetener perception to acceptance. ACS National Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March 2006. Presentation Number: AGFD 125.
6. Soffritti M, et al. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Health Perspect 2006; 114(3):379-85.
7. Kroger M, et al. Low calorie sweeteners and other sugar substitutes: A review of the safety issues. Int J Food Tec 2006; 5:35-47.
8. Assadi-Porter FM, et al. How sweet it is: detailed molecular and functional studies of brazzein, a sweet tasting protein and its analogs. ACS National Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March 2006. Presentation number: AGFD 166.

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