The major challenges processors face when they want to launch a low-calorie product include identifying the right stevia product, retaining the physical properties of sugar (crystallization, caramelization, preservative properties), maintain appealing mouthfeel (by blending stevia with bulk sweeteners), managing the regulatory guidelines and positioning the product with respect to the claim, according to Thierry Gay, vice president of natural food enhancement systems for the business unit of Vitiva Ltd., (www.vitiva.eu), Slovenia. Vitiva offers a full range of stevia products based on rebaudioside-A and stevioside without bitterness.
There are some technical considerations a processor has to understand when replacing sugar wholly or in part with stevia in confections. "With stevia, as with any high intensity sweetener, bulking agents must be used to replace the sugar content," Kempland explains. Hydrogenated starches and polydextrose are typical low-cal bulking agents used in the confection industry.
Soy is playing a growing part in modern confections. In addition to lecithin as an emulsifier, soy is a source of the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, which, along with soy protein, have been associated with lower risk of breast and other cancers in some studies.
"SoyLife is a unique soy isoflavone ingredient manufactured exclusively from soy germ," says Eden Somberg, technical specialist of the health business unit for Frutarom (www.frutarom.com). "Soy germ, rather than either whole bean or the fermented bi-products of extraction, contains the highest natural level of isoflavones combined with more than 40 other phytonutrients."
At one time, consumers who wanted or needed to exclude gluten from their diet found their choices very limited. This is especially true when it comes to baked products, as the properties this versatile protein provides are perfect for baking.
This situation has changed because of the hard work of many dedicated developers. Wheat- and gluten-free are becoming increasingly popular claims, and manufactures are meeting this demand with greater variety than ever. Pamela's Products (www.pamelasproducts.com), Ukiah, Calif., has been making gluten-free cakes, desserts and other confections since 1988. The niche they fit spans both the restrictions of gluten-free and overall health through use of all-natural ingredients.
Building healthier desserts and confections is about getting back to basics when it comes to a number of ingredients besides sweeteners and trends such as gluten-free. "When it comes to desserts there is only so much that any of us can do to improve what we love," says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of Blue California Inc. (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. "But we can start with the most basic, using natural flavors and colors for example."
According to McCollum, using natural non-caloric botanicals to add color and health is another easy way to improve desserts and confections. "Many of the natural extracts derived from berries offer deep colors with a good dose of antioxidants to any product," she says. Blue California makes a proprietary blend of water-soluble berry extracts that produces a deep red/purple color and offers high antioxidant value.
For example, bilberry extract is as high as 25 percent anthocyanidins. Lutein, which gives egg yolk a rich golden color, is a carotenoid that can help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataract formation.
"Imagine a sorbet made with fresh fruit plus added berry antioxidant power," says McCollum. "There are many concentrated ingredients derived from edible fruits in the market that can offer added value to these types of products."
Nestlé hit a sweet spot a few years back with Skinny Cow ice cream novelties and more recently took the brand into the candy aisle. Both lines make use of natural sweeteners and reduce calories, fat and added sugars to meet demands for a healthier indulging.
At Nestle/Dreyer's Inc.'s Haägen Dazs (www.haagendazs.com) unit, Oakland, Calif., formulators imagined something very similar. They created intensely colored, low-calorie, fat-free sorbets made with real fruit purées. The desserts weigh in between 120 and 150 calories per serving, quite svelte as frozen desserts go.
Tru Sweets LLC's Surf Sweets (www.surfsweets.com), Wheeling, Ill., take simple confections — organically sweetened gummy candies and jelly beans — and turn them into a healthy statement. Organically grown ingredients, attention to common allergens, no artificial flavors or colors, they make use of the natural colors and flavors available in fruits. This type of confection presents a challenge in that such products are associated with brilliant colors.
"Natural color blends can be challenging to formulate and equally difficult to use," says Phil Sprovieri, vice president of Flavorchem Corp. (www.flavorchem.com), Downers Grove, Ill. "Natural colors are less stable than synthetic; stability is influenced by the interaction of temperature, light, pH, water and activity presence of oxygen."