All-natural and clean label consumer trends have bakers seeking alternatives to sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Few categories are as important to a baker's repertoire as sweets. Cakes, muffins, sweetgoods, cookies and the like are the backbone of many baking operations. Sugar, of course, is the go-to sweetener for bakery applications. But the functionality of sugar alternatives can give bakers advantages beyond what sugar offers.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has some cost advantages over sugar and helps maintain freshness of baked products. It helps retain moisture, improve texture and improve the handling of doughs and batters. Corn Products, Westchester, Ill., a HFCS manufacturer, recommends high fructose corn syrup in the manufacture of baked products, fillings, icings and glazes to promote browning, improve tenderness and for sweetness control. And while HFCS has found itself a victim of a consumer backlash, most experts agree the ingredient is metabolized much the same as sugar. Because of this, proponents say it has been falsely characterized as the cause of increased American obesity. Detractors say HFCS' inexpensive nature allows products containing it to be more widely distributed, hence more widely consumed, than would more expensive products containing sugar.
Regardless where they fall in the debate, some bakers are looking for alternatives to both sugar and HFCS because of the recent national focus on obesity and a concurrent consumer interest in all-natural and clean labels.
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana Reb-A) is now joined by two new stevia glycosides, Rebaudioside D and Rebaudioside F, which have recently been declared GRAS by the FDA. These new ingredients will provide even more opportunities for bakers to formulate with this popular sugar alternative.
For label statements containing no new or chemical-sounding nomenclature, there are alternatives. Raisins and raisin paste, for instance, provide sweetness and textural enhancement in many baked products. For best results, raisins should be conditioned by soaking in water before being added to the dough or batter. This will help prevent the dried ingredient from drawing moisture from the substrate.
Likewise, other dried fruit inclusions may up the sweetness content of a baked product while looking good on the label. Try sweetened cranberries, pineapple, apricots, cherries or blueberries.
To maintain a consumer-friendly label while reaping the advantages of a liquid sweetener, many bakers are turning to specialty malt extracts, says Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing communications manager for Briess Malt and Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wis.
According to Judie Giebel, AIB-certified master baker and technical services representative at Briess, specialty malt extracts that deliver sweetness plus flavor and color can play a large role when reformulating baked products for cleaner labels.
“Pure specialty malt extracts add only two words — malt extract — to a label. They are all natural, made from 100 percent malted barley with no preservatives or additives,” Giebel says.
Caramel-flavored malt extract is particularly effective in yeast-raised doughs, cookies and other sweet snacks. Used at 1 to 3 percent in yeast-raised doughs, it delivers sweet, malty caramel flavor that improves the overall flavor and color of the finished product. It's functional as well because it enhances fermentation, improves browning, softens and improves the crumb, and extends shelf life. In cookies and other baked snacks, caramel-flavored malt extract can be used in larger amounts for sweetness plus flavor. Functionally, it extends shelf life.
Another growing trend is to replace refined sugars or corn syrup with grain- and starch-based natural sweeteners. “These sweeteners are made using a natural process which converts starches to sugars using only grain or starch plus natural grain-based enzymes and water. A natural sweetener with a dextrose equivalent (DE) of 45 is a comparable replacement to corn syrup with the same DE,” Giebel says. “Natural sweeteners function as a 1:1 replacement for sweetness and viscosity in baked products. They also lend a rich mouthfeel and nice sweetness to baked goods and, at the same time, contribute to a clean label because they are free of additives or preservatives.”
Honey also is an ideal liquid sweetener for the high-volume baking industry, giving manufacturers the ability to use a natural liquid sweetener without losing any functionality, says Bruce Wolk, marketing director for the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo.
“As a sweetener, honey imparts exceptional flavors in all bakery foods, including breads, tortillas, cookies, crackers, sweetgoods, fillings and toppings,” he says. “More importantly, it sweetens bakery foods naturally, and gives bakers a clean label alternative to other sweeteners.”
Honey's use in the baking industry extends even beyond sweetening and into flavor, form and functionality benefits, including extending the shelf life of baked products.
In a recent Honey Attitude and Usage study, a total of 521 households were interviewed about their honey usage. About 63 percent of respondents preferred whole wheat bread made with honey, or had no preference. And, 44 percent of respondents indicated they were willing to pay a premium of 40 cents for whole wheat bread made with honey.
Honey is a nutritive sweetener composed of numerous sugars, including fructose (38.5 percent), glucose (31 percent), maltose (7.2 percent) and sucrose (1.5 percent). The color and flavor of honey differs depending on the bees' nectar source.
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There are more than 300 unique honeys in the United States, originating from sources as diverse as clover, eucalyptus and orange blossom. This wide variety of flavors allows food manufacturers to launch complete product lines of honey-sweetened foods, all with different flavor profiles. For example, a product with buckwheat honey offers a robust flavor, while a clover or alfalfa honey features a simpler, lighter taste. In general, lighter- colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are stronger in flavor.
Other liquid sweeteners include agave syrup, made from the agave plant, which is becoming more visible in the supermarket. Maple syrup, another minimally processed natural sweetener is gaining in consumer acceptance as well. Like honey and malt syrup, maple syrup can be purchased in a range of colors, from very pale to dark amber.
The addition of another common baking ingredient also can up the sweetness ante in many bakery items. Vanilla, with its complex, sweet richness, can be used to enhance the sweetness of any sweetener, from HFCS to maple syrup.
“Vanilla functions to smooth out sweetness and to soften the bitter notes that are sometimes present in sugar and sugar alternatives,” says Dan Fox, Director of Sales, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, Waukegan, Ill. Vanilla also can improve flavor in acidic applications such as fillings. “Vanilla sugar,” Fox adds, “can be added as a topping for a muffin or cookie, increasing the sweet sensation without substantially increasing the sugar content of the item.”
With so many options available to high-volume bakers, the final decision may come down to consideration of the target audience and economics. Giving consumers alternatives and educating them on the commonly used ingredients we use will go far in helping them make wise food decisions.