Bakers are using sugar substitutes to achieve more healthful products, without losing functionality.
Sugar, or highly refined sucrose, remains the gold standard for flavor and desired sweetness in bakery products. Bakers are comfortable working with sugar. To replace sugar, they must find an ingredient with an identical sweetness profile that also adds volume and maintains crumb texture. Sugar also stimulates the Maillard reaction, or browning of products.
Despite sugar's many functions, many bakers either are searching for a more healthful product profile or are formulating specialty products for the diabetic market. The quest for sugar replacements has been revitalized by the introduction of some new ingredients that perform many of the same functions as sugar.
Nirvana for any food formulator is an ingredient that offers a one for one substitution without requiring reformulation or processing equipment adjustments. Natur Research Foods, Los Angeles, Calif., managed to do just that with its all-natural sweetener blend for baked products. Its proprietary blend of fruit and vegetable sugars, together with organic cane juice crystals, replaces sugar on a one to one basis while maintaining sweetness and product structure. In addition, the ingredient has 40 percent fewer calories than cane sugar and a low glycemic index.
“The baking industry is concerned with the increasing costs of ingredients for the products they make and the ‘what and how’ of operations is probably being redefined due to rising costs of ingredients,” says Loren Miles, C.E.O., Natur Research Foods.
This offers bakers an opportunity “to make a product for a market that will pay a higher price for a specialized quality product,” he adds.
Unlike polyols, a common sugar replacer, Natur's proprietary blend triggers the Maillard reaction. “We spent years developing that aspect of our product; it is vitally important to the commercial baker,” he adds.
Honey, another common sugar replacer, is a unique natural mixture of carbohydrates and other substances (38.2 percent fructose, 31.0 percent glucose, 17.1 percent water, 7.2 percent maltose, 4.2 percent trisaccharides and other higher carbohydrates, 1.5 percent sucrose, and 0.5 percent minerals, vitamins and enzymes according to USDA). Honey contains antioxidants, with higher levels in darker-colored floral honey.
Honey adds sweetness and prolongs the shelf life of bread products. Breads made with honey tend to have a prolonged shelf life because of the presence of the fructose in honey, a highly hygroscopic (readily taking up and retaining moisture) carbohydrate. Bakers should be aware that sweet bread formulated with honey changes its color characteristics depending on the amount of honey in the formulation and what type of honey is used. Clover honey is much lighter, for example, than other varieties. The National Honey Board, Longmont, Colo., has more information on honey varieties.
Formulators should be aware that moisture levels vary according to the type of honey, and adjust accordingly. Once adjustments are made, however, honey can assist with improved product functionality and quality. For example, a common problem with frozen dough is that gluten proteins are damaged during freezing and dough strength is weakened with storage. Research determined honey, at a level as little as 4 percent, improved frozen dough strength, increased volume, reduced staling and produced bread rated significantly better than breads without honey.
Polyols for all
The polyol category of sugar replacers offers many positives. Polyols are excluded from the term “sugars” on a food's ingredient legend, and are instead labeled as “sugar alcohols” at about 70 percent to 75 percent solids, according to Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 101.9. Sugar alcohols are slowly absorbed, primarily in the small intestine, resulting in a lowered caloric value, as well as a lowered glycemic and insulinemic response.
The FDA has allowed a health claim under Title 21 CFR 101.80 to note that sugar alcohols do not promote dental cavities.
On the other hand, sugar alcohols, such as maltitol, at high levels can cause a laxative effect. Children, because of their relatively low body weight, are even more susceptible than adults to sorbitol-induced diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Although this is more of an issue with gums and candies, bakers should carefully consider levels of inclusion and the intended audience.
In terms of baked products, polyols as a category usually do not absorb water the way sugar does. Therefore, foods made with polyols do not become sticky on the surface as quickly as do products made with sugar. Molds and bacteria do not grow as well on these sweeteners as they do on sugar, and so products last longer.
However, unlike sugar, polyols do not usually create a crisp brown surface on baked foods. The non-browning property can be an advantage when a change in color is not desired.
One type of polyol-based sweetener from Cargill, contains high intensity sweeteners neotame and acesulfame potassium, as well as erythritol, isomalt, sorbitol and polydextrose. This sweetener system brings to products a product claim for a ‘good’ source of fiber.
Blends without the high intensity sweeteners, are designed for use in countries where neotame is not permitted, such as Canada.
According to Cargill, its product also is more digestively tolerant than other polyols, such as sorbitol and malitol, and the company currently is working on a second round of the system, with higher levels of tolerance. The ingredient system currently allows manufacturers to reduce calories by about 20 percent, depending on the application.
Along with the non-browning characteristic, polyols often affect the cooling of baked products. Isomalt is an exception. Unlike other polyols, it does not provide any atypical cooling effect in bakery foods. In addition, isomalt has a very low hygroscopicity compared with polyols, such as sorbitol, xylitol and maltitol. Isomalt provides only half the calories of sugars (maltose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc.) and has a very low glycemic index, which makes it highly suitable for diabetics.
According to BENEO-Palatinit Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., the U.S. subsidiary of BENEO-Palatinit GmbH, Mannheim, Germany, isomalt variants (all polyols) can replace sucrose one for one in terms of bulk, texture, volume and shelf life. In most baking applications, replacing sucrose with isomalt retains the flavor, texture, appearance and volume sugar provides. For instance, baked products made with isomalt have a similar porosity and crumb texture compared to products made with sugar, notes Debra Bryant, director, business development and technical services, BENEO-Palatinit Inc.
Isomaltulose, derived from sucrose and featuring a mild flavor, may be considered a healthful replacement for conventional sugar, however, it is mainly found in energy bars in the baked products category.
Both isomalt and isomaltulose are derived from pure beet sugar (isomalt is sugar-free). Each product is characterized by its tooth friendliness, low glycemic response and a mild, sugar-like sweetness.
Because it has very low hygroscopicity, isomalt provides shelf life properties in its main baking applications: cookies and hard biscuits. The same physical property guarantees an excellent shelf life for powdered baking premixes. Furthermore, the anti-caking properties of the isomalt powder give an excellent flowability to baking premixes.
To optimize whipped masses or soft-cake formulations, a combination of isomalt and a humectant (e.g., maltitol syrup, polydextrose, glycerin, etc.) is recommended to find the right balance between crystallization and humidity.
Enhancing sweet perception
Another option for formulators reducing sugar is a sweetness enhancer. An enhancer is not the same as a sugar replacer, so when reducing sugar and using an enhancer, formulators need to replace sugar's bulk and functionality with another ingredient. Symrise Inc., Teterboro, N.J., offers a natural flavor system synergistic with sugars, such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup or sugar alcohols, which enhances the perception of sweetness in specific baked products. The flavor of Symrise's enhancer is product- and base-specific, and usage levels range from 0.20 percent to 0.50 percent in baked products, depending on the percentage of sugar reduction.
Sugar replacement has never been more possible and the specialty market more attractive for healthful or diabetic baked products. Unless using a one for one sweetener substitution, sometimes a combination of sweeteners can minimize flavor impact, help control costs and deliver the desired sweetness profile.