Sweeten your pot

Savvy use of sweeteners can provide your products with a competitive edge

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The seemingly placid world of sweeteners and sugars is fermenting with opportunities in practically all categories of food and beverage. These ingredients collectively have a myriad of functionalities, making sweetener selection all the more daunting. What follows, then, are some of the basics of sweetener functionality, particularly as they relate to new product development.

 

Before you select

 

Know your arena -- Identify the consumer's expectations for product appearance, taste, and benefits, and then determine if your concept meets these expectations. Beginning with the basics goes a long way toward minimizing guesswork and failure.  

 

Know your goal -- Understanding the reasons for utilizing a sweetener. Map your product objectives in terms of sweetness, calories, labeling (natural, sugar-free, reduced-calorie, low-carbohydrate), shelf life, appearance, texture, and taste (flavor, acidity, aroma) so you can rapidly identify sweetener candidates that meet these criteria.

 

Know your sweetener -- Carefully study all aspects of your selected sweetener(s) in terms of physical and molecular properties and the functionalities to be delivered to your particular food system. Also determine whether the sweetener can replace or augment the functionalities provided by the product's other ingredients. Quantify the calories and any other nutritional claims you wish to make prior to developing the formulation. Ensure that the sweetener of choice fits the distribution and handling capabilities of your manufacturing facility.

 

Know the conditions -- Test and evaluate the outcome for potential interactions among the sweetener and the product's other ingredients. Subject your prototype to the range of temperature and moisture conditions the product will likely encounter during processing and distribution. Incorporate all of the various environmental conditions into an accelerated shelf-life test to identify those that are factors detrimental to the success of your product.

 

Know your business -- Methodically map your manufacturing and distribution process to ensure that all aspects and limitations considered during the formulation stage. A sound understanding of your company's business philosophy and culture will help prevent unforeseen cost-reductions and ingredient switches that may be detrimental to your product. Identifying cost reductions early in the process helps ensure that only the most cost-effective formulations are considered.  

 

Know the alternatives , Use both your knowledge and "what if"? scenarios to ensure you've covered all the angles and left nothing to chance.

 

Sweeteners , form and function

 

Sweeteners functionalities , which include sweetness, flavor and flavor enhancement, freezing point depression, boiling point elevation, caramelization, texturization, moisture management, and heat of dissolution , are largely determined by the size, molecular weight, solubility and colligative properties of the agent in question. Understanding the inherent hierarchies and relationships among these variables is key to making an educated selection.

 

Sweetness -- Sweetness, the primary reason for incorporating a sweetener into any food, is inversely proportional to the molecular size of sweeteners; with smaller molecules generally being sweeter than their longer-chain counterparts. Dextrose with a molecular weight of 180 is used as the standard for sweetness. In multi-component sweeteners such as corn syrup, the individual size and affinity for water of the various components render dextrose equivalency less meaningful as a single factor for determining sweetness.

Moisture management -- Water may be found in foods in the following forms: free and mobile; free, but immobilized; and chemically bound. Water availability and mobility are integral to defining product texture and shelf life. Sweeteners, being effective solutes, help to immobilize water and thereby lower the water activity , the equilibrium vapor pressure of water in a food. The preservation mechanism entails rendering the water unavailable for microbial growth, enzyme activity and other spoilage reactions.  In high concentrations, sweeteners increase the osmotic pressure and can help draw moisture out of any microorganisms they come in contact with, thereby, inactivating them. Sucrose is an effective solute for reducing water activity, though dextrose and fructose are even more effective. Corn syrups have a wide range of saccharides and other substances with varying molecular weights and therefore vary in their effect on water activity. Syrups with lower dextrose equivalent (D.E) and higher molecular weight generally have lower osmotic pressure than syrups with higher D.E. and lower molecular weight.

 

Freezing point depression -- Sweeteners depress the freezing point; the greater the concentration of the dissolved sweetener molecules, the greater the effect. This ability also is inversely proportional to molecular size and weight. Frozen products, in their passage from manufacturer, to distribution center, to retailer, and to the consumer often experience temperature fluctuations. Products with low freezing point will tend to form ice crystals and develop an undesirable grainy texture as a result of relatively minor fluctuations in temperature and repeated freeze/thaw cycles. Freezing point may be raised to a sufficiently high target by manipulating the sweetener combination, thus protecting the product's texture by minimizing the number of freeze/thaw cycles during distribution. A balanced freezing point depression is even more critical in low-fat frozen desserts. Although fat has no effect on the freezing point, the ingredients typically used to replace it do. Low D.E. corn syrups are particularly good fat replacers by virtue of their ability to help maintain the solid content without affecting the freezing point.

 

Boiling point elevation -- Saccharides can effectively elevate boiling point, with those of lower molecular weight more effective than their larger cousins. In addition to being expensive, higher cooking temperatures can create undesirable quality attributes. Hence, this colligative property plays a critical role in the selection of sweeteners for boiled candies and taffy.

 

Flavor and flavor enhancement -- Besides contributing distinct individual flavors, sweeteners also enhance other flavors in the food system, making the selection and balance of sweeteners a key issue in defining the quality of premium products such as vanilla ice cream and vinegars. The rate of sweetness and flavor release and their corresponding fading rate are also critical in sweetener selection, particularly for delicate and intensely flavored products.

 

Heat of dissolution -- Sweeteners range in their heats of dissolution and many are markedly different from sucrose.  Dextrose has a significant negative heat of dissolution and serves to enhance the cooling effects of flavors such as peppermint.  The heat of dissolution is a key property influencing selection of sweeteners for confectionery products.  

 

Texturization -- Sugars and sweeteners, in addition to developing texture, also affect how it is maintained in the product. Texture is influenced by the sweetener's contribution to the product bulk, crystallization level and viscosity.  

 

Appearance -- Sweeteners impact product appearance tremendously as the result of two independent thermal reactions. The first is Maillard browning. Maillard reactions involve reducing sugars with aldehyde or ketone-reducing groups, which react with proteins and amino acids in the 4 , 4.5 pH range to develop a range of brown colored compounds called melanoidins and a range of aromatic volatiles.  The extent of Maillard browning can be managed with appropriate sweeteners and pH.  Sucrose does not contribute to Maillard browning because it is not a reducing sugar.  

 

The second reaction is caramelization. When heated past its melting point, sucrose rapidly decomposes into dextrose and fructosan, which further decompose into a variety of compounds that are collectively known as caramel. Controlling the degree of decomposition helps control caramel color and bitterness. Caramel is an important contributor of flavor and color in caramel candies, syrups and dessert toppings and has an important role in development of flavor and color in baked products.

 

Fermentation -- The ability of sugars to ferment under certain conditions is the basis for several food categories such as baked products, brewed beverages, and yogurts. Fermenting sugars produce alcohol, gaseous carbon dioxide, acids such as lactic acid and citric acid, and a number of aromatic compounds. This property is used to create volume, texture and distinctive aromas associated with the various types of breads. Brewers utilize a wide variety of yeast strains and sweeteners to control the amount of alcohol and carbon dioxide retained in the product.  Fermentability is yet another quality related to the molecular weight; lower molecular weight saccharides ferment more easily.  Corn syrups of higher dextrose equivalency are therefore more fermentable. Brewers can select the extent and nature of the residual saccharides to define the sweetness and alcohol content of their final products , this approach is particularly useful in creating light beers and less sweet dry alcoholic beverages.  

 

Au natural or not

 

Market trends indicate a significant consumer demand for food products formulated with alternative sweeteners such as honey, cereal and fruit syrups. Consumers seek different and unique sweet foods and beverages for unproven health benefits, particularly ones that tend to be less sweet. The fundamental shift in the American palette to European taste is attributed to the growing influx of European bakery products and confectionery in the American market. There is a growing tendency amongst artisan bakers and confectioners to use alternative sweeteners such as fruit juice, barley malt and honey. Savvy suppliers such as Chilton, Wis., based Briess Malt & Ingredient Co., get the attention of savvy marketers by catering to the growing need among small and specialty food processors for natural, organic and non-genetically modified sweeteners. Bob Hansen, manager of technical services, says his first step is to educate his customers about the multiple functionalities of sweeteners. For energy bars and pet foods , two rapidly growing segments in the health food sector , Hansen says that the key to success developing products that are close to conventional and have the added goodness of being natural. Once the decision is made to use a natural, organic or non-GM syrup, the actual formulation presents relatively few challenges, since these ingredients tend to perform like any other sweetener with a similar composition and saccharide profile.   

 

Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue L.L.C. a Chicago-based firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. The firm helps businesses and professional organizations in the health and wellness sector to focus on what matters most. Kantha may be reached at kantha@ais.net or (312) 951-5810.

 

 

 

 

 

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