The drive for healthier food with reduced sugar content continues to gain momentum and while there are now several sugar alternatives – both natural and synthetic – replacing sugar in baked goods and confectionery remains a bit of a challenge thanks to the fact that sugar does much more than just adding sweetness.
Pressure to reduce the sugar content
Food manufacturers continue to face mounting pressure to reduce the sugar content in food in order to curb the increased incidence of obesity and diabetes. This includes the confectionery and bakery industry, which due to the nature of many of its products such as cakes, biscuits and other indulgent snacks, shoulders much of the criticism for the incidence of weight-related health issues.
The challenge for this, and other food producers, is that while consumers are conscious of reducing sugar intake, they are not prepared to compromise the taste experience.
When it comes to baked goods, however, sugar does more than just provide a sweet kick – sugar contributes not only to the taste of food items, but also to other factors including texture, bulk, mouthfeel, aroma and colour.
It also helps to brown goods quickly and evenly because it caramelises when heated. It is hygroscopic and thus, helps baked goods hold onto moisture keeping them moist and tender, preventing them from going stale as quickly as baked goods made without sugar. Its moisture-grabbing character also helps to delay gluten development and it helps with leavening of baked goods by providing a structure for gas expansion in the oven, promoting lift and rise in baked goods.
Although there are several different sweetening options available, none taste or more importantly, behave exactly like sugar. According to Margaret Carter Chemgrit food product sales manager, there are other issues to consider when looking at sugar alternatives. With sweeteners you have to consider whether they are nutritive or non-nutritive, their comparative sweetness to sugar, ease of use, heat stability, how the product is metabolised with other ingredients, after taste, compatibility with other sweeteners and laxative effect.
Furthermore, because sugar does more than one thing, it is impossible to replace it with just one thing. Multiple ingredients are needed to fulfil all the other roles it performs. This is not only because of the chemistry involved, but also due to physical quantities. Many of the sugar alternatives – be they artificial or natural – are significantly sweeter than sugar, and are required in much lower quantities, which affects the bulk of products.
Bulking agents like maltodextrin can be used, however, if reducing calories is what manufacturers are after, then this is not ideal as maltodextrin actually has a similar number of calories to sugar. Conversely, other bulking agents that are low in calories are more expensive than ingredients they are replacing, making them unattractive from a costing point of view.
A combination of sweetening options and thickeners may need to be used in order to achieve a palatable outcome.
This is easier in sweet baked goods and has been achieved in some instances but has not been as successful in breads.
The sweet alternative
Sucralose has become a popular replacement for sugar and is in greater demand. While price and availability has been an issue, it is now more readily available. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and has zero calories, is very easy to use although it performs best in dairy products as well as in beverages and candies.
Saccharine, Sodium Cyclamate, Aspartame and Acesulfame K are also popular alternatives to sugar and are used in many food products.
Consumers are also becoming smarter and savvier and are more specific about what goes into their food. While most sugar alternatives are recognised as being safe, there remains some resistance to synthetic sugar alternatives with a growing demand for clean and sustainable ingredients. This is driving the demand for natural sweeteners such as monk fruit, stevia, agave nectar, date syrup and coconut palm sugar.
Taste still trumps
“While the industry is making great strides in reducing and replacing sugar in food products, in particular confectionery and baked goods, it seems that for the moment, taste and experience remain the most important issue for consumers,” says Lucinda Cordia, Chemgrit Food general manager.
Chemgrit Food, a division of Chemgrit SA supplies the bakery and confectionary industry with a number of ingredients including a range of sugar and sugar alternatives. Chemgrit represents industry leaders and deals directly with manufacturers & suppliers both locally and internationally.