The health and wellness consumer trend has been continually progressing throughout the world in recent years, which has led consumers to seek healthier foods across the various food product categories. Foods that are ‘natural’ or ‘free from additives’ are naturally perceived as healthier, as are those that have ‘reduced sugar’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘reduced salt’ or low in any of the three components.
Sugar content level particularly is something that consumers today are scrutinising, and while they would like products that have little or no sugar due to the accompanying ‘low in calories’ factor, products such as these would tend to taste bland or simply different from what they are used to. The latter is even more so for companies that try to substitute sugar with less caloric sweeteners such as stevia, which might cause a subtle difference in taste. These products therefore do not generally do well in the market despite being positioned as ‘healthier’ for consumers, because consumers are not willing to compromise on taste for health.
Today, stevia is one of the common alternatives for sugar
that manufacturers use.
For example, Coca Cola had initially replaced the sugar in its Vitaminwater drinks with stevia, a zero-calorie sweetener that is naturally sourced from the extracts of stevia leaves. The stevia leaf has been used as a sweetener in places like Paraguay and Brazil for hundreds of years. The change from sugar to stevia was made with the good intention that by decreasing the calories, the drinks would then be healthier for consumers. However, following an avalanche of consumer complaints because the additional stevia resulted in a bitter aftertaste that was undesired, the company had to then go back to using sugar.
The company is also not the only one to have had bad experiences with stevia due to its bitter aftertaste, and as such, food and beverage manufacturers have also sought and found other alternatives for sugar.
Sucralose: New And Improved Sugar?
One such alternative found is sucralose, another form of sugar but a zero-calorie sweetener that was discovered in 1976. According to Chaisucha Chotipurk, regional director, East Asia, Merisant, sucralose is produced using a multi-step process that starts with ordinary table sugar, sucrose. Three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule are then altered, resulting in a stable sweetener that tastes like sugar.
Sucralose has to date undergone stringent testing, and was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as early as 1998. Sucralose is used in multiple products across the food and beverage categories such as breakfast cereals, ice cream, yoghurt and carbonated drinks, he added.
But, why the hype for sucralose? What benefits does it have for manufacturers and consumers alike?
Firstly, sucralose is a zero-calorie sweetener, and is entirely sugar-free. This makes it a viable substitute for consumers who are weight- and health-conscious, and who are asking to control their calorie intake, explained Mr Chotipurk.
Due to the changes in molecular structure, sucralose is not recognised as sugar in the body and therefore cannot be used as energy; it therefore contains no calories and is able to pass rapidly through the body virtually unchanged, and is unaffected by digestion or stored in the body. Also, since sucralose contains no ‘sugar’, the sweetener is suitable for diabetics as it does not raise insulin or blood sugar levels, and also does not cause tooth decay.
For manufacturers, sucralose has become popular because it has a sugar-like taste that does not leave an aftertaste, and is also greatly versatile when it comes to food and beverage applications. The sweetener can be easily incorporated into both sweet and savoury recipes, and with its high heat stability, it can even be used for cooking and baking purposes.
Sweeteners Of The Future
With such benefits, it is no wonder that the sweetener is now widely accepted in over 80 countries, and used across all product categories in the food and beverage industry. Some companies have sought to even develop new products with sucralose, such as Merisant and their Equal line, including Equal Gold that was launched in 2015 that is purely made from sucralose.
However, food and beverage manufacturers have not stopped looking for sugar alternatives as of yet; the market is seeing an arrival of new alternatives in the market such as mogroside V, or improved versions of stevia that claim to have overcome the undesired aftertaste. While there is no one perfect solution, with the growing consumer interest and awareness of health and wellness, manufacturers will likely be driven to develop and source for more innovative and beneficial sweeteners in the near future.