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Mary Galloway is head of the METER Food Research & Development Lab. She specializes in using and testing instruments that measure water activity and its influence on physical properties. She has worked with dozens of the world’s largest and most successful food brands to solve moisture-related product issues.
Dr. Zachary Cartwright is lead food scientist at METER Group. He holds a PhD in food science from Washington State University and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from New Mexico State University. He is an expert in isotherm analysis and the use of the Vapor Sorption Analyzer (VSA).
MG: Yeah, so this is quite interesting too. You'll notice that if we look at sucrose, which is the blue trace, and tagatose, which is the red trace, they're nearly right on top of each other, so they're very similar in their characteristics between the two. We kind of saw that as well when we were researching it, some of the attributes that tagatose has matched closely to sucrose. As we're looking here, you'll notice that fructose actually has the lowest water activity where it starts to dissolve, so that's nice, so it'll stay in that nice amorphous state. Then, allulose is kind of in the middle.
It's around 0.73 would be what I would say, and then we start seeing its response where it starts to take on moisture. I just wanted, before we kind of leave this topic, just really hit again, the importance of having your sweetener in an amorphous state because that way, it can bind with water. Once it's crystalline, the only way that it'll react with water is on the surface, and so you won't get these water-binding capabilities that you would see and desire in something when you're looking for the sweetener, so you must keep your sweetener in an amorphous state.
ZC: Then, let's finish off this section with a few honorable mentions. Like we mentioned earlier, we can't really go over every alternative sweetener that's out there. We tried to really hone in on the top five or so, but what are some of the other alternative sweeteners that you see either from clients that we work with or when we did our research? What did you come across?
MG: Yeah. Monk fruit extract was big. Very, very potent sweetener, so that's nice because you can add just a little bit of it to kind of boost that sweetness profile. It doesn't really add any bulk because it is so sweet, so it's just really for that part of it. Licorice root extract, we found that as well, but as you would imagine, it does have a licorice flavor, so that tends to be more limiting in that you would use it maybe in a strongly flavored candy or something like that.
Another one we ran across a lot was maltitol. It's also a sugar alcohol, about half as sweet as sucrose and about half the calories, so it still has that. It does resist crystallization, which is the major plus for isomalt, and they use it a lot in candies for that very reason.
ZC: Again, if there are other sweeteners that we didn't include that you'd like to hear about, please let us know. All right, in this final section, we're going to talk about mixing some of these alternative sweeteners. We didn't collect data in our lab, but we thought it would be helpful to talk a little bit about some stories or anecdotal evidence about how different companies, making different products are able to achieve their goal and have the same texture and taste and so on, using a mixture of some of the sugars that we mentioned. The way that we're going to set this up is I will say the obstacle, and then Mary is going to give the solution. The first obstacle is related to high-intensity sweeteners.
Here, the obstacle is that you can only use a very small amount because if you have too much, it's going to really affect the taste or maybe have a negative impact on the gut. When using a high-intensity sweetener, what's the solution here?
MG: Yeah. It's going to be good for that nice, quick, sweet profile like the monk fruit we were just talking about, but we need to make up the mass different, so adding a bulking agent, maltodextrin, polydextrose, inulin fibers to replace the mass that's lost there.
ZC: The next example, and you mentioned this a little before, ice cream. If you are changing and using an alternative sweetener, then you're going to lose some of that water-binding, and there may be an effect on the freezing point depression. Well, what's the solution here for this type of product?
MG: Yeah. There is not just one, I want to point out, but as an example, this is one. You can use erythritol, as we mentioned before, because it does do a good job of that freezing point depression, which you need to be able to make an ice cream, but maybe you would add something else like stevia or some other bulking agents to fill in some of that to have a good mouth-fill on your ice cream, so it's still kind of a blend. You could start with erythritol for the freezing point depression, add a little stevia for the sweet, and then have to add a bulking agent to fill out and have the good creamy mouth-fill that you're looking for.
ZC: I'm getting hungry as we go through this. Next, let's do nutrition bars. I see this more and more. A lot of nutrition bars want to lower the calorie in that bar and make it as healthy as possible. The obstacle here is that when you remove the sugar, sugar actually has a huge impact on the texture profile of these types of products, so you might get a hardening effect that you were trying to avoid, or I see this all the time where companies replace a component like sugar, and then all of a sudden, their whole product is different. What could we do here as a solution if you're removing sugar for this type of product?
MG: Right. Maybe a good solution for this one is the allulose, and for the sweet, and then it does have a lot of good properties that are similar to sugar, that we spoke about before. Then, you can also add some soluble corn fiber, and that is also going to help bulk out, keep the good texture, maintain the taste and the shelf life. If you remember, one of the things that sugar does is it slows that staling process and that protein coagulation, so yeah, no surprise, and you look into it why that's hardening so-
ZC: We actually have a project right now where we're looking at some nutrition bars, so hopefully more in that later. Now, let's talk a little bit about taste profiles. You might have an obstacle where you have delayed sweetness, so with sucrose, you expect it to have a very specific taste. It's going to hit your tongue in a certain way, but as you start to use some of these alternative sweeteners, that sweetness might show up later, or it might not be the same, so how could we think about formulating for this?
MG: Right. As an example, stevia kind of has a delay in the sweetness and maybe a little bit of an odd taste after as well, so you could blend that with allulose or tagatose, which has that initial burst of sweetness that a consumer would look for. I mean, there's also going to be some other added benefits for that as well, but for that, if you're looking to get that quick burst of sweet, those would be good.
ZC: Then, what if the obstacle is an off-flavor? I've heard of monk fruits having kind of a melon rind flavor or off-taste, and stevia, like we've mentioned, might have a kind of a licorice taste, so what can you do to combat these off-flavors?
MG: Yeah. Interestingly enough, I've seen where they've actually combined those two together, and it actually neutralizes their off-flavors and provides a neutral sweet, so it's kind of interesting that they can have this kind of synergistic effect when you blend them together.
ZC: Then finally, what about erythritol? We've mentioned this a few times. It has kind of a bright effect or a cooling effect in your mouth. What might you do if you're using this specific alternative sweetener?
MG: Yeah, and stevia, I've seen that too, where they put a little bit of stevia in, and it kind of settles down that bright, that cooling effect. One of the things we didn't mention, and we were just talking about here earlier, was xylitol, which is very similar to erythritol, in that it has a cooling effect. You'll find it in gum, and it's also one of the reasons if you ever get like a cinnamon gum and it's always like a cinnamon mint, it's because of the xylitol, because of the cooling effect in that artificial sweetener.
ZC: Interesting. Then, this last example we have here is just a baked cookie, so if you're going to reduce the sugar and use an alternative sweetener, then there's an impact on the spread if you're trying to cook this, so how might you overcome this type of obstacle?
MG: Yeah. I wanted to put this example and discuss it a little bit because we've been talking solely about these alternative sweeteners, but there are other aspects we need to consider, and there might be other ways to adjust your formulation as well, that isn't just about sweet. Then, this is a good example of that, where you don't get the spread that you're expecting when you have a reduced sugar, plus an alternative sweetener, so one of the ways to do it is to actually increase your fat to flour ratio, and you'll definitely get that spread, and then you can reduce your baking time. That might be another way to look at adjusting your formulation to account for the lower sugar.
ZC: Just as a summary, I know we've talked a lot about sweetness, but you also have to consider those adverse flavors or some consequences, like the gut consequences.
MG: Yeah, consequences.
ZC: And you may need to add other functional ingredients. If you're removing your sugar, you may need to add an emulsifier or some type of stabilizer, or bulking agent, and like you said before, keeping it in an amorphous state is extremely important so that we don't get that crystallization in that water that's kicked out.
ZC: Just as a quick recap today in this webinar, we talked about why alternative sweeteners are a big deal. We defined sugar and talked about how it interacts with moisture. Then, we talked a little bit about the science behind sugar and these alternative sweeteners. We looked at specific alternative sweeteners. We went into some pros and some cons.
We showed some data, and then had some honorable mentions. To wrap things up, we looked at some mixing or some anecdotal evidence of how some companies, depending on product type, are taking this challenge and figuring out a way of the right type of mixture to use for their specific case. That was everything that we wanted to go over today. Please make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, and also check out our podcasts. Now, we'll move into the Q&A section and take your questions.
ZC: Yeah, so we brought this up a little earlier when we were showing the obstacles and the solutions, specifically for high-intensity sweeteners, but Mary, what are these bulking agents?
MG: Yeah. What makes them a bulking agent and why you would need them when you have a different sweetener is because sugar is going to add a certain kind of mass, certain amount of mass in your formulation, and when you remove that, you need to replace that mass, so we have bulking agents that can be added like maltodextrin. Then, one common example of that is if you go to the grocery store and you want to have something like a stevia blend. Stevia is quite potent, so you would have a little bit of stevia and a lot of maltodextrin, so you see a lot of these kinds of blends. Maltodextrin, as I just said, is one of them, but it could be like polydextrose. Inulin is another one that's popular, or fiber. We talked about soluble corn fiber being a bulking agent because they're able to absorb water, hold onto it. They replace the mass, but they also can replace some of that water-binding that's lost when you're replacing sugar.
ZC: I'll just include that if you're a consumer and watching this, definitely check out the back of a label, and if you see that there's an alternative sweetener, you're going to also see some of these bulking agents listed on that label.
ZC: That's a tough question because depending on your goals, it might be a different mixture or several of these alternative sweeteners, so we'd really have to know a little bit more about the exact product and the goals, but as we looked before, some of these alternative sweeteners do behave a lot like sucrose. For example, when we showed the isotherms, tagatose was extremely similar to sucrose, so if you're looking for the same type of absorptive properties, that might be a good substitute or something to include in your mix. What else would you include, Mary?
MG: Yeah, that's a good consideration. It's hard to get a specific answer for what is the best. If you're looking at sweeteners, maltitol was really good, allulose was good, tagatose was good for looking at the sweetness equivalency. I also had some good humectant properties as well, but then, when you start looking at other ones, sugar alcohols tend to, not brown, let's say, but maybe you have a baked item, so that would not be maybe good to use, so allulose or tagatose may be better in that regard, but then, maybe you have a different formulation where you're looking to have low-calorie, then those aren't necessarily low-calorie or not as low, like tagatose is higher than allulose, right? There's a lot of things to consider when you're replacing the sugar and what kind of formulations.
I do want to say that there are a lot of blends out there. I mean, companies are working very, very hard, ingredient companies are working very hard to come up with specific blends for different applications so ...
ZC: Yeah, great question. This is actually something that we talked about earlier in the table that Mary and I presented, where we were looking at comparing humectancy for these different alternative sweeteners, and which ones were the best according to the data?
MG: Yeah. Actually, what was best were the epimers of fructose, so fructose itself, but then also, allulose and tagatose. We could have those be able to reduce the water activity to like 0.20. It was really impressive, so long as they stayed in an amorphous state. I always like to say that a lot, but we could. We could get those to have a really good humectant effect, which means that they're going to bind with water really well, so it's going to have to be those epimers.
ZC: Yeah. When we were going through our list of sugar substitutes before, we didn't quite get to the syrups, but there are definitely a few that are worth mentioning. What were some of the ones that you looked at in the lab?
MG: Yeah. There's a few, and mostly, the natural ones, so they aren't necessarily low-calorie, but like brown rice syrup, agave syrup, that little reduced calorie-wise. We also looked at tapioca syrup. Maltitol has the syrup as well, and these are actually really good to add. They're going to be in, I'm going to say it too many times, but does keep the form right, right?
It's not going to be able to crystallize with that, but there isn't added moisture content associated with those syrups, so you have to be able to account for that in your formulation, so just be aware that you are adding more moisture to that and it has to be accounted for, so either by baking, or cooking, or reducing, maybe some other source of water, but it is going to be a factor, so ...
ZC: Yeah, I would just add, just make sure that you watch out for any added moisture, and then maybe any adverse flavors, especially with some of them, so yeah. Just something else to keep in mind.
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