The food industry can relate. We’ve all heard consumers say they want a longer shelf life but no preservatives; natural, organic and artisan at low cost; full flavor and sodium reduction; and no added sugar without compromising sweetness.
We can’t meet every consumer expectation in this space, but we can give you some tips to help you get the most out of your sweetener system.
First things first
Sweeteners don’t look alike, taste alike or behave alike. Yet, there’s a tendency to compare. Sugar, or sucrose, is the standard, because it’s familiar to us and, importantly, it’s sweet from start to finish.
“Sweetness is measured in how quick and how long sweet lasts in your mouth,” explains Laura Ennis, senior beverage innovation technologist, David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. This can be measured by a temporal sweetness profile. “Different sweeteners are rated on their intensity over time, and these results can be plotted onto a graph. For example, crystalline fructose peaks very early and fades rather quickly, whereas sucrose peaks later and lasts longer, hence the reason that most chewing gums are accentuated with artificial sweeteners to keep the sweet profile lasting longer. Non-nutritive sweeteners tend to take the longest to peak and, therefore, lack this upfront sweetness.”
Perception of sweetness occurs when a sweet molecule comes in contact with a sweet receptor in the taste bud. “Protein conversions lead to depolarization of the cell, which then leads to a buildup of the ions within the cell and causes the neurons to perceive sweetness,” says Richard Davidson, vice president, Hagelin Flavor Technologies, Inc., Branchburg, NJ.
When the receptor is saturated, more sweetness can’t be detected. “If you drink a soda and then eat a piece of candy, depending on how much sugar is in the candy, you can’t taste the sweetness of the candy because you’ve already peaked the receptor. It can’t detect any more sweetness. You get to a point of diminishing returns.”
Sweetness can seem enhanced by mouthfeel. “Perceiving more fullness in your mouth aids in sweetness perception,” says Ennis. “Fats and bases that coat the mouth can detract from sweetness.”
In the search to reduce sugar consumption and to optimize sweeteners, the industry is trying to come up with a silver bullet that will trick the cell into thinking a molecule is more sweet than it actually is.
“You can go the old-fashioned way and use a molecule that is sweet. Sometimes we use vanillin, ethyl vanillin or helioptropine,” Davidson says. “Those are components that will make you perceive more sweetness, but unfortunately they also carry flavor characteristics. Vanillin is going to taste vanilla-like. Heliotropine is going to be more of a cotton candy type flavor. Caramel furanones add sweetness, but again, they are characterizing.”
Flavor companies are developing molecules built to get the receptor to depolarize more rapidly to give a stronger sweetness perception without adding a flavor note. “You want to act on the chemistry on the cell, not to induce the flavor response,” Davidson says. “That’s been the trick.”
Nonnutritive sweeteners have proved popular for many decades. Zero calories is one benefit of non-nutritive sweeteners. Potency is another.
For example, aspartame is 150 to 200 times as sweet as sucrose. “Aspartame is unique in that its taste profile is good enough to allow it to be used as a sole sweetener,” says Ihab E. Bishay, Ph.D., senior director business development/application innovation, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, Chicago.
Yet, compared to sucrose, aspartame has “slow onset of sweetness and leaves a lingering aftertaste.” says Ennis. “It is also not very stable to heat and shelf life.” It’s best at more-neutral pH because it undergoes hydrolysis when it is in high-acid or alkaline conditions.
Source: Food Product Design