The future of confectionery ingredients is tied to the view of sweets in the modern diet. After decades of being treated as threats to our health, confections are finally accepted as normal, enjoyable indulgences, perfectly compatible with a healthy diet.
More than just change of attitude and understanding of practical nutrition, ingredient providers helped processors create selections lower in calories and cholesterol, vegan or gluten-free, to match special needs and preferences of consumers without compromise on the organoleptic qualities that make sweets so delightful.
"Many companies in the confectionery industry have become more in tune with today's calorie-counting consumers," says Daniel Bailey, R&D scientist for Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz. "We're constantly developing new products to aid in stabilizing systems where components such as sugar, fats or eggs need to be reduced or excluded, without compromising texture or flavor."
The company's products include fat replacers that mimic the consistency and texture of fat and stabilizer systems that reduce or replace eggs while still providing the functionality and structure seen in full-egg formulations. "By implementing stabilizers in place of ingredients that rank poorly in nutritional value, companies are able to produce products that are more appealing to health-conscious consumers," Bailey adds.
Stabilizers in confection products, such as cake icings, pastries, marshmallows and chocolates, can help prevent sugar bloom that often forms prematurely in sugar-rich foods. In ice creams and other frozen confection products, gums help bind loose moisture that results in ice crystal formation. In this way gums can substantially improve shelf stability, texture and overall quality of products.
Another key aspect to helping provide shelf stability is controlling moisture. By rearranging the water molecules and binding the moisture in a system, mold growth can be inhibited.
In many confection applications, sugar syrups, such as high fructose corn syrup, as well as different oils are used in coatings or employed as binding agents. Different gum systems, such as gum arabic, can be used as an excellent alternative. These gum systems serve as binding agents, aid in protecting and adhering color and help strengthen a coating or shell, allowing the sugar and fat of many confection applications to be substantially reduced. Moreover, since the main component of hydrocolloid gums (such as tara, fenugreek, konjac, arabic) is a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, gums have a fiber content of 85 percent or higher, mostly soluble fiber.
In the rush to create gluten-free confections, processors can find themselves facing a host of technical challenges. "Granulation can be an issue, especially when dealing with rice flour," says Matt Gennrich, food scientist at Cargill Inc. (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis.
"Many producers use a fine or superfine granulation of rice flour for gluten free products. To achieve a similar texture/mouthfeel to gluten-containing products, it's important to optimize the individual starch blends of gluten-free products to mimic the pasting and gelling properties of their counterparts," Gennrich says. "Not all baked goods are made with the same type of wheat flour; the same approach is needed with gluten-free products."
Scott Helstad of Cargill's corn milling technical services, points out that texture also is impacted by different sweeteners. "Syrups provide a cost-effective source of bulking solids with varying molecular weights that will impact texture and sucrose solubility/crystallization, especially in soft candies," he explains.
"As the syrup's average molecular weight goes from low to high, the texture might become longer," he continues. "Syrups also provide reducing sugars that will impact the product's water activity and humectant characteristics, and could, in turn, impact texture and bite. It is important that the syrup's dextrose equivalent and use level be balanced with other ingredients, for example sugar, starches, gums, pectins, etc., to develop a texture pleasing to consumers."
Some of the high-potency natural sweeteners making their way into confectionary products create challenges of suitable bulking agents. Sanjiv Avashia, senior food scientist for Tate & Lyle Inc. (www.tateandlyle.com), Decatur, Ill., describes the process for monk fruit (luo han guo), a natural sweetener about 200 times as sweet as sucrose. The company has partnered with BioVittoria Ltd. (www.monkfruit.org) to create Purefruit monk fruit ingredient, used in confectionery applications for developing "naturally sweetened" reduced-sugar and sugar-free products.