Stevia Seeps Into Beverages

So do honey and monk fruit/luo han guo extracts, as drink makers try to reduce calories while also keeping labels clean and simple.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor and Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Beverages ceased being about mere thirst ages ago. Although not without their share of controversy, beverages have become a preferred delivery system for energy and sustenance — so much so that the hand naturally reaches for a beverage when the body feels a lack of vigor.

Let's focus on that moment of controversy though: Research has uncovered evidence the body perceives calories taken in liquid form in a different fashion than it does those from solid food. Specifically, the calories are not "counted" as readily. So while a sugary drink might deliver 140 calories, our internal accountant dismisses that energy and seeks more to fill the need – even though the need is no longer there.

With the needle of the obesity compass pointing toward this, beverage makers stepped up to the plate — or bottle, as it were — and set R&D to the task of creating functional drinks that not only satisfy taste and other cravings but act as aids to weight and energy balance instead of hindrances.

New research from Cargill Inc. (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis, indicates three key factors affect the taste experience of beverages: sweetness, flavor and mouthfeel. These factors must be examined in relation to each other because any time one is modified; it affects the way the others are perceived.

"When producing calorie-reduced beverages, manufacturers typically lower the sugar content of their product, a move that affects the sweetness of the beverage and impacts mouthfeel and thus the total taste experience," says Andy del Rosal, leader of Cargill's North American beverage applications group of scientists. "To compensate for the reduction of sweetness, zero- or mid-calorie sweeteners are added and often combined with taste-masking and enhancing flavors. Although this combination effectively addresses the loss of sweetness, the beverage is still likely to deliver a ‘thinner' mouthfeel and a different taste profile."

Cargill developed texturizing components — "pre-screened texturizing blends," commercialized under the brand name Trilisse — to optimize mouthfeel in reduced-calorie beverages, based on specific applications.

Stevia takes its place
Technical considerations in using stevia as a beverage sweetener have become less and less of a concern since the ingredient was approved in the U.S. for food and beverage applications three years ago.

"American consumers prefer all-natural products. They are more educated about artificial sweeteners, even colors and flavors, and this seems to be a growing trend," says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of Blue California (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

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