Thanks to advances in R&D, the future of sugar-free
and no-sugar-added baked products looks bright.
Sugar-free, reduced sugar and no-sugar-added baked products are enjoying greater market share due to growing national awareness of diabetes, both adult Type ll and juvenile, and the related obesity issue. But many sugar-free or reduced sugar options can create an aftertaste or have textural issues. Hill & Valley Premium Bakery Inc., Rock Island, Ill., set out to solve these problems.
“Stevia has become widely accepted as an alternative natural sweetener to sugar alcohols in the baking industry,” says Heather Longo, director of research and development. “With the introduction of masking agents to counteract the bitter/metallic note, this natural alternative sweetener is poised to enter the volume baking category.”
Stevia is a highly soluble, heat- and pH-stable sugar alternative that is up to 400 times sweeter than sugar with no calories and zero glycemic load, according to Longo. Being a naturally derived sweetener makes it clean-label compatible when used with other naturally derived sweeteners like erythritol. “Stevia acts synergistically with both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners increasing its versatility in both sugar-free and reduced sugar options,” Longo says. “Aftertaste has been one of the drawbacks of stevia; however, masking agents and flavor modifiers are now available that minimize the impact. The sweetness profile delivered by stevia needs to be enhanced by flavor modifiers or blended with high intensity sweeteners to deliver the same impact as sugar.”
According to Longo, many of erythritol’s functional properties contribute a negative effect to baked products. Its high cooling effect is better served in fillings/icings, and by itself, it is generally better in candy, yogurt, chocolates, fillings, jellies and beverages. However, the cooling effect can be compensated for in baked products by blending with other lower-cooling polyols or fibers/polydextrose. Its low molecular weight reduces the starch gelatinization temperature, negatively affecting volume and texture of baked products. Erythritol crystallizes easily and is not hygroscopic, which contributes to drying/staling of products unless blended with hygroscopic ingredients in the formulation.
Still, erythritol has its benefits, too. It can make up the bulk and enhance the flavor when paired with other high-intensity sweeteners. Its low molecular weight allows it to be absorbed in the small intestine reducing the laxative effect experienced with other sugar alcohols. It is also calorie-free, so when blended with other high-intensity sweeteners and functional ingredients, erythritol can find its way into volume baking in the reduced-calorie, better-for-you category.
The specialty wholesale market also has yielded progress in sugar-free baking. Donna Nelson and Nanette Goin, owners of Just Delicious Diabetic Delights, Clackamas, Ore., discovered that many reduced-sugar formulas contain maltitol, a corn-based sweetener that can cause gastric issues in people with certain sensitivities. Both Nelson and Goin are susceptible to these gastric issues, and thus were unable to eat their own reduced-sugar products along with some of their clients.
Just Delicious Diabetic Delights now uses only a few specialized sweetening ingredients, including Fructevia, a blend of natural fructose, FOS Stevia and magnesium carbonate. This sweetener is low-carb, pH balanced, and chemical-, gluten- and GMO-free. The bakery also uses Steviva, a blend of stevia and erythritol. This all natural gluten-free grain extract has a zero glycemic index, is low-calorie, gluten-free, GMO-free and has no maltodextrin. The bakery also uses both sucralose and Fruit Sweet–a concentrate made with apple and pineapple pulp from from Vashon Island, Wash.-based Wax Orchards.
Baking without sugar poses challenges. The rising process is inhibited by the lack of sugar, and thus must be made up for through an increase of leavening ingredients. Goin says the cooling process often aids the sweetness profile. She also found that pure stevia ingredients inhibited the gelling of fruit pie fillings.
Other functional properties may also need to be replaced, adds Hill & Valley’s Longo. “Bulk, browning, texture, volume, humectancy, shelf life and overall sweetness are many of the functional properties addressed as we develop sugar-free products. Our scientists take into account molecular weight, solubility, hygroscopicity and other unique functional properties of each individual substitute when formulating.
The easiest property to satisfy is ‘bulk,’ which is usually achieved through the use of polyols. Other properties are achieved through special starches, gums, high-intensity sweeteners and fibers which work synergistically to create sugar-free products that look, feel and taste like full sugar. The goal of the Hill & Valley R&D scientists is to develop sugar-free and no-sugar-added products that are visually appealing and deliver the same taste and quality of their full-sugar counterparts. The challenge for our development scientists is to identify numerous substitutes that closely mimic the functional properties of one ingredient, sugar.”
Adding flavorings also can boost the flavor profile of a product, Goin says. “Lemons are always good to enhance flavor because sometimes you must find other ways to bump up the flavor when sugar is omitted.”
Formulations and bake times are critical. “There can be just a two-minute window between underdone and overdone when using sugar alternatives. Consistency is important. We use only the best ingredients, and they are expensive,” she admits.
A new challenge is to re-evaluate the nutritional content of the formulas in order to reduce calories from fat and other ingredients while keeping the integrity of the product. All Just Delicious products are labeled with calorie content, carbohydrate content (critical in helping insulin-dependent diabetics track their carb intake) and point counts for a popular diet program. The bakery is currently serving a variety of hospitals and nursing facilities, and has started delivering to area Kroger stores.
Hill & Valley also has seen great success in the development of
reduced-sugar bakery foods for the specialized market. As this consumer base continues to grow, more ingredients and ingredient combinations will be developed to satisfy the needs of the industry.
And sugar-free baked products show great potential for growth.
“Reduced calorie/portion control is interesting. Also, consumers are looking for potassium and magnesium minerals as well as vitamin E, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and whole grains in their foods to help boost heart and bone health and increase cognitive function,” Longo says. “Consumers want natural, functional foods with healthy ingredients, such as superfoods, phytochemicals, carotenoids, anthocyanins and flavanoids. With these products still on the rise, we should see functional sweetener fiber blends (stevia with inulin), and functional specific (cognitive, immunity, improved health) enter the volume-baking sector soon.”