Sweet News on the Sweetener Front

From interchangeable sweeteners to the demand on sugary foods, these news bits are making a sweet impact on the food processing industry.

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Sweeteners are essentially interchangeable  
High-fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners, according to the Chicago-based American Medical Assn. (AMA).

“Fructose-containing sweeteners — such as sugar, invert sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup — are essentially interchangeable in composition, calories and metabolism,” sweetener expert John S. White, Ph.D., president of White Technical Research, Argenta, Ill., told attendees last year at an IFT session on HFCS.  Replacing HFCS in foods with other fructose-containing sweeteners will provide neither improved nutrition nor a meaningful solution to the obesity crisis,” he said, adding, “In light of similarities in composition, sweetness, energy content, processing and metabolism, claims that such sweetener substitutions bring nutritional benefit to children and their families appear disingenuous and misguided.”

Sugar sales sweetened by demand
According to the USDA’s September 2009 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), U.S. sugar deliveries for food reached 10.74 million short tons in 2008/09, up 8 percent from a 10-year average of 9.95 million short tons and the highest level since the early 1970s. Sugar prices are rising also. Developments in 2008/09 and prospects for 2010 are guided by the following factors: Increased use of sugar in recent years by the domestic food and beverage industry in place of high-fructose corn syrup; reduced sugar production in 2008/09 as U.S. beet sugar producers turned to other crops offering higher returns; a disruption to U.S. sugar-refining capacity caused by a refinery explosion in February 2008; a projected decline in 2009/10 U.S. sugar imports from Mexico, where prices are also climbing; and limited flexibility to increase imports from other countries beyond minimum access levels established by the U.S. tariff-rate quota (TRQ) system.

Activating calcium receptors on the tongue for sweetness
Flavors in low-sugar or low-salt foods can be enhanced by compounds that activate calcium receptors (CaSR) on the tongue, indicating a distinct function of CaSR in human taste, according to new research from Ajinomoto, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (Jan. 2010).

Tapping into the Japanese concept of kokumi, which refers to the balance and taste complexity of foods, these compounds have no taste themselves, but can enhance sweet, salty and umami taste attributes. Kokumi compounds include calcium, protamine (found in milt or fish fluid), L-histidine (an amino acid) and glutathione (found in yeast extract). Molecules that induced the most activity in calcium receptors elicited the strongest flavor enhancement in the taste tests, according to the researchers, led by Yuzuru Eto.

 “This is the first report indicating a distinct function of the calcium-sensing receptor in human taste perception,” wrote the researchers.
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