Bakers searching for label friendly ingredients turn to naturally derived sweeteners.
Photo Courtesy of US Highbush Blueberry Council
Photo Courtesy of Nature Research Foods
Photo Courtesy of California Raisin Board
Today's health-conscious consumers still crave an occasional sweet treat. Certain traditional sweeteners, or novel sweeteners derived from fruits, vegetables, leaves and other sources, add to the natural appeal of bakery foods.
Natural has become a hot button for consumers. According to Mintel's Global New Products Database, “all natural” was the third most frequent claim on new products introduced in 2007. Last year, Sara Lee and the Sugar Association petitioned the FDA to end a long era of industry ambiguity by defining the term “natural.” But in January, the FDA noted that, because of limited resources, it had no plans to define the term in the near future.
One sweetener embroiled in the natural debate is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In 2007, both Cadbury Schweppes and Kraft faced lawsuits over “natural” label claims on products that contained HFCS. In early 2008, an FDA spokesperson provided some clarity to the issue in an email explaining that because the production of HFCS involves synthetic fixing agents and certain acids, the sweetener “would not be consistent with our… policy regarding the use of the term ‘natural.’”
The often-maligned HFCS offers numerous advantages to the bakery industry, including its pumpability in the plant, fermentability in yeast-raised products and moisture-retention in finished bakery foods. But bakers who want to label their products “all natural” must now explore other sweeteners. Fortunately, quite a few options are available, ranging from traditional sucrose to newer sweeteners, derived from fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Although not yet approved for food use in the United States, stevia is one alternate sweetener bakers may want to explore. In the summer of 2007, Cargill and Coca Cola announced a partnership to develop food applications for stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the herb Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Currently grown in South America and China, stevia is a natural zero-calorie sweetener. Depending on the purity, stevia extracts are 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar.
David Bishop, C.O.O., GLG Life Tech Corp., China, notes, “The stevia plant contains many components, but only three have had attention to date: rebaudioside A is the sweetest component, rebaudioside B doesn't taste as good, and rebaudioside C is a bitter component.” GLG is focusing on developing seeds with high yield of the rebaudioside A component, growing these in China, and developing the world's best extraction process.
Currently, stevia is approved for use as a food additive in many countries, including China, Japan, Korea and Brazil. It is approved as a dietary supplement in the United States and Australia. In Canada, it is approved as a food for individual use only. Some industry sources anticipate GRAS approval of stevia in the United States this year. It is not known if approval will only be for beverages, or also will include bakery applications. Because of its intense sweetness, a consumer version currently available in specialty stores is often carried on maltodextrin. Bishop adds, “Stevia is heat stable up to 392°F (200°C).” This is in contrast to some artificial sweeteners that have limited heat stability.
Fruit and vegetable blends
A variety of bakery sweeteners have been produced from fruit and vegetable sources. New to this category is Natur Baker's Blend, an all natural sweetener with 40 percent fewer calories than sucrose. This ingredient tastes and bakes like sugar, and has the same glycemic index as an apple, notes Loren Miles, C.E.O., Natur Research Foods, Los Angeles. “For wholesale bakers we have three products, and the selection of the appropriate product will be determined by whether the baker needs only sweetness, or sweetness and performance. The Natur Baker's Blend product mimics the qualities of sucrose in that it rises like sugar, caramelizes like sugar, browns like sugar and forms a crust like sugar.”
Miles notes the sweetener has a texture similar to cane sugar, and can be sprinkled on top of cookies. Because it is working with a variety of sweetener sources, the company can customize a sweetener blend to meet specific functional parameters. For example, if bakers need the product to rise, it can supply a fermentable sugar. If bakers only want sweetening, then the Natur 10X All Natural Sweetener might be a good choice. This version has no calories. Categories where the products are currently used include pizza crust, muffins, cookies, bread, cakes and donuts.
Naturally sweet California raisins contain 59 g of total sugar, consisting of 50 percent fructose and 47 percent glucose. Raisins are flavor potentiators, as well as sources of reducing sugars and precursors of the Maillard reaction. The texture of raisin paste can be controlled by using different grinding conditions. Its natural sugars and fibers help retain moisture in baked products, thereby providing humectancy and serving to slow staling and maintain product freshness for longer periods of time. The use of raisin paste in baked products at levels ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent effectively extends shelf life without imparting a noticeable raisin flavor. Whole grain bread manufacturers often incorporate raisin paste into the dough to provide subtle sweetness and color.
Raisin juice concentrate is a pure extract of raisins containing a minimum of 70 percent natural fruit soluble solids. It serves as a natural sweetening and coloring agent, as well as a flavor enhancer. When incorporating into a formulation, the amount of water should be reduced by about 3 lb. for every 10 lb. of raisin juice concentrate. In breads, raisin juice concentrate is used at about 2 percent or more as a natural preservative.
Bakery manufacturers have discovered that using blueberries to provide sweetness offers the dual advantage of sweetening and enriching the product naturally. In fresh blueberries, fructose is 50 percent and glucose is 49 percent of the total sugars. Blueberry concentrate can be used to sweeten and color granola bars, bagels and cookies. Blueberry puree, a blend of berries in a concentrated form, up to 45°Brix, can be used to formulate custom pastes. The sweetness of blueberries livens up variety breads and a wide array of baked products. With consumers reading labels before they buy a product, blueberries in the ingredient statement say “natural” in a way that consumers understand.
Many consumers have formed their own criteria for what they consider natural, and most would consider honey and molasses a good fit in this category. For some consumers, natural means the traditional flavors and sweeteners they grew up with and learned to savor in their home or homeland. “Bakers who want to capitalize on the growing Hispanic market might consider using Zulka® Azúcar Morena, a golden unrefined sugar popular in Mexican pastries,” notes Carlos Borjorquez, vice president, sales, Bojorquez Trading Co., Yorba Linda, Calif. This natural cane sugar is one step less refined than granulated sugar and has a much more distinctive flavor. Some popular Mexican pastries that use this sweetener include: bolillos, which are similar to French bread; conchas; churros; buñuelos; little pigs; and sweet empañadas (turnovers). This popular Mexican sweetener also can be used in corn flour tamales and is available in an organic version.
Bakers must consider numerous factors when selecting a sweetener, regardless of whether it is nutritive or non-nutritive, natural or chemically derived. The important functional properties of sweetness, browning and fermentability must often be taken into account, depending on the type of product. Wholesalers also must balance the formula demands for bulking in a specific application, with the consumer desire for fewer grams of sugar on the label. In the end, natural sweeteners provide a label friendly option for bakers, as long as the functionality and flavor mimics that associated with sugar.