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If, by a quirk of development, humans had developed a profound distaste for sweet flavors, food scientists would be scrambling to find ways to eliminate that taste while retaining the structure of the ingredients we call sweeteners. The wide-ranging function of these small carbohydrate molecules is too helpful to do without.
There is a place for both high impact (sweeter than sucrose) and low impact (less sweet than sucrose) sweeteners, and not just as flavorings. They also serve as humectants, browning agents, texturizers, osmotic actives and other tools.
A number of low-impact sweeteners offer these utilities without a lot of sweetness, and they are finding uses in the increasingly health-aware, safety-conscious marketplace. High- or low-impact technically defines a sweetener that affects insulin reaction -- and this is not just important to diabetics, this also impacts blood pressure and blood vessel plaque. High-or-low intensity refers to apparent sweetness.
Most of the newly introduced products that use these ingredients are beverages. That's because beverages are ideal carriers and the category is a growing one right now, although these sweeteners do have other applications.
Tagatose and trehalose are two of these up-and-coming low-impact sweeteners. Both technically have been around for several years, but were introduced as cost-effective products with self-affirmed generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status fairly recently. Both are produced from carbohydrates: tagatose from lactose (the sugar found in milk) and trehalose by enzymatic action on starch.
Generally, the sweetener market is in the hands of major companies. Capacities are large and startup costs are high. It usually takes a considerable time for a switch in sweetener use by major products, as was the case of the movement from sugar or invert sugar to high-fructose corn syrup.
These sweetener functions are frequently measured by dextrose equivalent (DE), which measures the amount of reducing power of the sweetener, roughly by the number of reducing ends of the saccharide fragments. Higher DE sweeteners are sweeter, thinner, and brown more easily and quickly.
Maltodextrins, available to very low DE, are not particularly sweet and provide more viscosity. But all of these sweeteners supply about 4 calories per gram, and are completely metabolized in the lower intestine.
Sucrose isn't measured by DE, is sweeter than the corn or other grain derivatives, provides body, and is totally metabolized. High-intensity sweeteners are very sweet, and generally have the functional characteristics of their carriers (maltodextrin, dextrose, lactose, etc.)
Change is slow, but eating into the mainstream market is a growing special needs market, populated by obese, overweight and diabetic consumers. Whether these people are watching calories, carbohydrates or the glycemic index, traditional sweeteners are not the answer. Indeed, some observers think this special needs market could become the mainstream market.
Regardless, the science behind these special sweeteners must be better understood by all food formulators.
Tagatose is made by hydrolyzing lactose with a special enzyme so the two monomers, galactose and glucose, can be separated by chromatographic columns. Tagatose was self-affirmed as GRAS in May 2001, by its developer, Spherix, of Beltsville, Md. www.spherix.com with a no-objection letter from FDA following in October.
Tagatose is found naturally in a number of foods: cheeses, milk and other common products.Tagatose is a monosaccharide in structure. The galactose molecule present in lactose is converted to tagatose using alkaline conditions, then concentrated and crystallized in a process much like the production of fructose from sucrose. Because of the position of chiral carbons, which makes the product technically a C-4 epimer of D-fructose, only about 20 percent of the sugar is metabolized. This provides a caloric value of about 1.5 calories per gram (sugar is about 4.0 calories per gram).
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