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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 04/29/2011
As evidenced by the recent New York Times article "Is Sugar Toxic?" sweets are a hot-button issue when it comes to health. Nevertheless, it's a good bet that the future of confectionery ingredients will be influenced by both concerns for health and the art of the confectioners who make special concoctions that add a little spice to our lives.
The tools available to processors have greatly increased to include a host of sweeteners to match any taste and any creation. For example, Tate & Lyle, of both London and Decatur, Ill., can point to a variety of sugars that are able to meet the demands of the modern confectioner.
Derived from the enzymatic hydrolysis of maize starch, the company has categorized them according to relative sweetness — a scale called dextrose equivalents. Since starch is a chain of glucose (dextrose) molecules, the resulting sugars from hydrolysis are glucose and maltose, and the greater the degree of hydrolysis, the more glucose is liberated. This results in a higher dextrose equivalent score, ranging from 25 to nearly 100 percent dextrose equivalents.
Sweeteners also may be combinations of glucose and fructose. A 50-50 combination is table sugar, aka sucrose. This will be slightly sweeter than glucose alone because fructose is slightly sweeter than glucose.
(A common misconception is that high-fructose corn syrup is so named because it is high in fructose. The fact is, it is high only in relation to pure glucose. In reality, HFCS can be anywhere from about 45-55 percent fructose in combination with glucose, thus it's entirely possible for a batch of HFCS to actually have less fructose than regular sugar.)
An ace sweetener
"Confectionery ingredients are increasingly becoming more functional and healthy," says Travis Jacobsen, communications director for Celanese Corp., Dallas. "Research shows that worldwide obesity and diabetes have doubled since 1980 and 2000, respectively, and will continue to rise. Driven by these two major epidemics, ingredient manufacturers continue to deliver products and concepts that promise a healthier yet palatable consumer product."
Celanese's subsidiary Nutrinova makes the zero-calorie sweetener Sunett acesulfame potassium, or ace-K. "Nutrinova currently offers solutions and concepts around this core product," says Jacobsen. "but plans are to go beyond this to reach an improved sweetness profile and make acesulfame potassium a non-calorie replacement option for sugar's mouthfeel characteristics in various applications.
"Sunett offers a wide range of benefits for the growing number of health-conscious customers. And from a technical perspective, Sunett also offers positive blending results with sugars and other low calorie sweeteners that help manufacturers achieve a rounded sweet taste profile cost effectively. In addition, its stability and versatility with new functional ingredients has made it the sweetener of choice for many manufacturers."
These solutions aim to deliver sucrose-like taste and calorie reduction while being manufacturer friendly.
Honey: The Ideal Sweetner?
Consumers always recognized honey as a beneficial natural sweetener, but for some reasons honey rarely is considered as a prime ingredient in confections. This is especially true of baked sweets, which present formulation challenges due to honey being sweeter and, of course, wetter than sugar.
This hive-mind attitude toward honey could be about to change, notes Emily Manelius, a communications specialist for the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo. "Honey is showing up in an increasing number of confectionery products, from jelly beans to chocolate truffles. At last year's Sweets & Snacks Expo, honey was spotlighted as an emerging trend. Several confectioners, including Jelly Belly, Gimbal's Fine Candies and GloryBee Foods all introduced new confectionery products made with honey," she explains.
According to Manelius, honey is an "ideal sweetener" for the confectionery industry because of its exceptional flavor profile and its familiarity among consumers. "Pure honey is all-natural and contains only one ingredient: honey," she says. "It's produced by bees in a beehive, not manufactured in a processing facility. When used in confectionery products, honey is simply labeled as ‘honey' too."
As an ingredient, honey is about 25 percent sweeter than sucrose (on a dry weight basis), and is composed of numerous sugars, including fructose (38.5 percent), glucose (31 percent), maltose (7 percent) and sucrose (1.5 percent).
"In addition to having consumer appeal, honey gives confectioners the ability to experiment with different honey varietals," adds Manelius. "There are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the U.S., originating from such diverse floral sources as clover, eucalyptus and orange blossom. This variety of flavors allows confectioners to launch complete product lines of honey-sweetened candies, all with different flavor profiles.
"For example, a product with buckwheat honey offers robust flavor, while a clover or alfalfa honey provides a simpler, lighter honey taste. In general, lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are stronger in flavor. These flavor profiles can be paired appropriately with chocolates, nuts and fruit to create endless flavors."
Smooth and stable
Confections have always been as much about art as they have been about sweetness. So with appearance and texture as critical features, ingredients have to perform. "Gums are used extensively in confectionery items to improve emulsion, elasticity, texture and mouth feel," says Monica Prendergast, senior food scientist for Gum Technology Corp., Tucson, Ariz. "They also are used in icings, specifically to prevent sugar ‘bloom' and cracking."