Building Healthier Desserts

Processors have been trying for nearly a generation to bridge the gulf between the reality of dessert and the concept of health.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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McNeil Nutritionals (and supplier Tate & Lyle) solved the bulking and browning problems in part by mixing sucralose 50-50 with sugar and introducing Splenda Sugar Blend for home baking.

Similarly, a new trend among stevia suppliers is partnering with sugar refiners. PureCircle announced at July's IFT Food Expo a collaboration with Imperial Sugar Co. Natural Sweet Ventures LLC is the resulting joint venture, and the product portfolio is called Steviacane. The result will be a number of blends of stevia with cane sugar for, among other markets, bakery and desserts. A month earlier, GLG Life Tech Corp. inked a similar deal with Grupo Azucarero Mexico, the largest non-governmental sugar marketer in Mexico, which is expected to result in similar sugar-stevia blends.

Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y., well known for vanilla, recently tackled the problem of masking stevia-sweetened products. The system works especially well with dairy-based desserts, masking the "bitter, licorice-like and astringent notes" that can accompany stevia, according to the company.

Inulin is a natural low-calorie carbohydrate that also can be used effectively in dessert manufacturing and has a dual advantage in that it provides both lower calories and prebiotic benefit. "Extracted from chicory root, inulin and oligofructose ingredients are among the world's most researched prebiotics," says Joseph O'Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, N.J. "They are proven to selectively nourish and stimulate beneficial microorganisms called bifidobacteria in the colon, promoting digestive health and function while helping the body absorb more essential nutrients and minerals, such as calcium."

According to O'Neill, Orafti's inulin ingredients can be used in low-fat frozen desserts while maintaining the typical fat-like creamy texture. "The fat replacement is based on the particle gel properties of inulin, which mimic fat droplets, resulting in mouth-coating, mouthfeel and creaminess. Oligofructose can be applied in an ice cream formulation to replace syrups or sugars. Although its sweetness level is lower than sugar, when combined with zero-cal sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame K, sucralose or stevia, it gives a well-balanced sweetness profile similar to that of sugar."

Soy solutions
If adding fibers improves the "per calorie" side of the equation, increasing protein content ups the nutrient portion for increased nutrient density. "Solae has several isolated soy proteins to select from in order to formulate a healthy dessert," says David Welsby, research fellow at Solae LLC, St. Louis.

Protein, however, can be tricky to use in products that need a light texture. According to Welsby, as protein concentration rises (up to as much as 12 percent of the formula), the texturizing components of the formula have to be modified to take into account the thickening effect of high protein. At these levels of protein, other ingredients, such as refined carbohydrates and fats, are displaced from the recipe – which does reduce calories and allow the final product to be suited for weight-management and diabetic formulations.

"High levels of soy make it easy to reach the necessary amount for the soy heart-health claim, even at relatively small serving sizes," continues Welsby. "The first and key step for successful manufacturing is correct hydration of the soy protein. Incorrectly hydrated soy protein will not provide the functional properties required for the dessert. Poorly hydrated protein has poor emulsification properties and can result in emulsion breakdown and fat separation. In addition, incorrectly hydrated protein can lead to chalky or sandy mouthfeel."

"In the case of a dry blended dessert, it's critical to get the correct dispersion of the ingredient in water, in addition to good flavor release and a good mouthfeel sensation," adds Alejandra Gonzalez, senior research investigator at Solae. "For ready-to-drink desserts, protein and fiber selection is also very important. Texture, flavor and good dispersion, too, are important characteristics to keep in mind to get a good healthy dessert."

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