A variety of sugar alcohols can be substituted for sugar to create sugar-free or low-carbohydrate bakery foods.
According to a recent survey conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp., almost one-third of the U.S. population is either on a low-carbohydrate diet or plans to try one in the next few years. These staggering numbers have caused ingredient suppliers to flood the marketplace with a wide assortment of low-carbohydrate ingredients and formulations. For the most part, these ingredients have focused on removing refined flour from a formula and replacing it with some type of resistant starch or fiber.
However, this process represents only one piece of the low-carbohydrate puzzle. Besides reducing refined flour levels, high-volume bakers also must reduce or eliminate sugar content to create low-carbohydrate bakery foods. To accomplish this while still maintaining ideal taste and functional properties, bakers can employ alternative sweeteners.
Alternative sweeteners fall into two categories: nutritive and non-nutritive. Nutritive sweeteners commonly used by bakers include various polyols such as sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomalt, lactitol and erythritol. This category also includes polydextrose and glycerin. These sweeteners contribute calories and carbohydrates, but are not classified as sugars by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These ingredients contribute bulk to bakery foods and also provide other functional attributes such as browning and water binding.
Non-nutritive, or high-intensity sweeteners, include saccharin, aspartame, Acesulfame K and sucralose. These sweeteners are generally used at very low levels and do not contribute calories. Typically, bakers use a combination of these two basic types of sweeteners to achieve the desired effect.
When formulating low-carbohydrate bakery foods with alternative sweeteners, bakers must familiarize themselves with a few buzz words prevalent in today's diet-obsessed culture. Chief among these buzz words are net carbohydrates and the glycemic index.
The Atkins diet plan defines net carbohydrates as the carbohydrates that can be digested and processed by the body as dietary carbohydrates, thus having a direct impact on blood sugar. Most of the alternative sweeteners discussed in this article are subtracted from the total carbohydrates in these calculations, which yields bakery foods that are both sugar free and low in net carbohydrates.
Many food manufacturers are labeling the net carbohydrate-content of their foods by following a simple formula:-Net carbohydrate content equals the carbohydrate content minus dietary fiber and sugar alcohols.
However, bakers should be aware that although FDA has clearly defined sugar free and no sugar added claims, they have not defined net carbohydrate claims. The lack of action by FDA has created a free-for-all in the labeling of these products, and the definition of net carbohydrates can change from food manufacturer to food manufacturer.
Another popular term among low-carbohydrate dieters is the glycemic index. For practitioners of these eating regimens, the glycemic index represents a ranking system of how certain foods affect blood glucose levels. Foods that contain refined flour and sugar, such as breads and cookies, rank high on the glycemic index, thus causing many consumers to avoid these foods. Similar to net carbohydrate claims, the glycemic index is not an FDAendorsed measure of how to judge the healthfulness of a product.
Despite the confusion regarding proper labeling, bakers are still pushing forward with low-carbohydrate bakery foods. To reformulate a sugar-laden product into a lowcarbohydrate offering, bakers can remove the sugar content and replace it with a variety of sugar alcohols.
Lactitol, which is about 40% as sweet as sucrose, can be used in sweet goods such as cookies and cakes. This ingredient has two calories per gram and a glycemic index of four. "Lactitol has a mild sweet flavor and comes in crystalline and milled forms," notes one sugar alcohol supplier. The milled version is used when a fine granulation is desired, such as in icings and fillings. Lactitol behaves similar to sugar in baking, but it does not contribute to browning because it has only 0.25 grams of residual lactose per 100 grams.
"Another ingredient often used in baking sugar-free products is maltitol syrup," one supplier of sugar alcohols says. "It finds wide usage in nutrition bars, both as a component of the variegates (e.g. caramels) for nutrition bars, and as a binder." Maltitol syrup can be used as the sole sweetener in soft cookies, and can be used as a onetoone replacement for corn syrup.
For applications where less sweetness is desired, polyglycitol syrup, also known as hydrogenated starch hy d r o l y s a t e s (HSH), represents a sweetener that has a high molecular weight and an ideal binding functionality. Polyglycitol syrups also are ideal for savory products. When replacing sucrose with polyglycitol or maltitol syrup, bakers will need to compensate for the added moisture of the ingredient. These syrups contain about 25% moisture. "For the greatest cost efficiency, most bakers can consider a blend of crystalline maltitol or maltitol syrup with crystalline sorbitol," an alternative sweetener supplier states.
Another sugar alcohol, isomalt, provides a one-to-one sugar replacement in a wide range of bakery foods. A recent study by the American Institute of Baking showed that isomalt has the sensory, production and shelf-life properties to act as a replacement for sucrose in commerc i a l ly produced cookies and muffins. "With isomalt, biscuits, cookies and wafers retain their crispiness longer because of the product's unique lowwater absorption," says a supplier of the ingredient. The anti-caking properties of isomalt also provide an ideal flowability and shelf life for baking premixes. Other applications include meringue, toppings, spreads, and nutritional/functional bars.
Bakers should be aware that although FDA has clearly defined sugar free and no sugar added claims, they have not defined net carbohydrate claims. The lack of action by FDA has created a free-for-all in the labeling of these products, and the definition of net carbohydrates can change from food manufacturer to food manufacturer.
Erythritol has a calorie content of 0.2 kcal/gram and a zero glycemic index. Plus, the alternative sweetener has the highest digestive tolerance of all polyols. "Erythritol's low molecular weight also provides high osmotic pressure and lower water activity in food formulations," a supplier of sugar alcohols says. "These water-binding properties not only help extend shelf stability by deterring microbial growth, they also enhance freshness and softness."
For bakers looking to boost the sweetness of their products without the bulk, several non-nutritive sweeteners are available. One of the newest non-nutritive sweeteners to make waves in the wholesale baking industry is sucralose. "Sucralose fits in perfectly with newer dietary patterns emphasizing lower carbohydrates and lower glycemic index foods," one sucralose supplier says. "It provides no calories and can be successfully used to reformulate products lower in available carbohydrates."
For applications that depend on sugar to provide a structural function, one sucralose supplier says that water can be used in conjunction with sucralose to provide the bulk typically provided by sugar. In these products, a small amount of thickener or stabilizer, such as cornstarch or agar, can be used to adjust the texture of bakery foods to provide the proper mouthfeel and structure, the supplier says.
Acesulfame K represents another high-intensity sweetener often used in baking applications such as cakes, pastries, doughs, biscuits, muffins and calorie-reduced fruit fillings and creams. Acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has ideal bake-stability, one ingredient supplier says.
A variety of sugar-free bakery foods have flooded the marketplace in response to the aging baby boomer population and the growth of diabetic occurrences.
From a taste perspective, replacing sugars with alternative sweeteners is rather simple. However, replacing the functionality of sugar in a bakery food's structure is more complicated. "For some baked goods, sugar performs many structural functions," one alternative sweetener supplier says. "In these cases, low-or reducedcalorie bulking agents are necessary to provide the bulk properties of sugar." Bulking agents available to bakers include polydextrose, maltodextrin, inulin and sugar alcohols.
Besides acting as a bulking agent, polydextrose also provides benefits to low-carbohydrate formulas. " Polydextrose is considered 90% soluble fiber and has a low glycemic index of four to seven," a polydextrose supplier states. "An added benefit of polydextrose is that is has very little laxative effect, as compared to most of the sugar alcohols, and thus is better tolerated at higher levels."
Polydextrose can be used in a slew of bakery foods, including sugar-free cookies, no-sugar added muffins, cakes, pie fillings, breads and buns. Because the ingredient is not sweet on its own, it is often used in combination-with alternative sweeteners.
In sweet bakery food formulas, bakers can replace sugar content with a fifty-fifty mix of polydextrose and lactitol to obtain similar texture and taste. In bread, polydextrose can be used to replace 100% of the sugar. Polydextrose is found in low carbohydrate breads such as George Weston's Atkins-endorsed line of breads.
For most bakers, creating sugar free or low-carbohydrate products does not rest with one alternative sweetener, but rather a blend of both nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners. After researching alternative sweeteners, Nancy's Pies, a large manufacturer of sugar-free and nosugaradded bakery desserts, chose to use a blend of sorbitol, maltitol, lactitol, and Acesulfame-K in its product line. "By using a skilled blend of alternative sweeteners, we can produce fresh-tasting, moist bakery products with enhanced shelf life," George Coin, Nancy's Pies chief executive officer, says.
Besides nutritive and non-nutritive blends, bakers also can eliminate sugar in their formulas through specialty blends of ingredients. One such blend is a mix of inulin and sprouted mung bean extracts. This specialty ingredient can be blended with sugar alcohols to improve mouthfeel and texture, and to remove the need for high-intensity sweeteners. The supplier of this blend recommends mixing 60% to 70% sugar alcohol with 30% to 40% of the specialty blend.
Regardless of what ingredients or alternative sweetener blends a baker uses, creating sugar free and no sugar added products is a lucrative market. Besides the ingredients attractiveness to diabetics and consumers on sugarrestricted diets, a whole new sect of low-carbohydrate dieters are finding these products beneficial to their eating patterns.