Big food companies that include Nestle, Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ), and PepsiCo Inc. are scrambling to create healthier products to reduce their dependence on treats full of sugar and salt. It comes as the U.K., Mexico and some U.S. cities implement sugar taxes to help fight childhood obesity and diabetes, which affects four times as many people now than in 1980. The World Health Organization has said increasing the price of sugary drinks by 20% would reduce consumption by a fifth.
Nestle said it had devised a new technology that has the potential to reduce sugar in some of its confectionery products by up to 40% without affecting the taste. They have found a way using only natural ingredients to change the structure of sugar particles. By hollowing out the crystals, Nestle said each particle dissolves more quickly on the tongue, so less sugar can be used in chocolate.
“Our scientists have discovered a completely new way to use a traditional, natural ingredient,” said Nestle’s chief technology officer, Stefan Catsicas.
“Real food in nature is not something smooth and homogeneous. It’s full of cavities, crests and densities. So by reproducing this variability, we are capable to restore the same sensation”, said Nestle’s top researcher. “If you look with an electron microscope into an apple, that’s exactly what you see”.
The announcement comes as a global obesity epidemic ramps up pressure on processed food makers to make their products healthier. Nestle and Mondelez have all been working to reduce sugar, fat and salt, as consumers increasingly opt for fresher, healthier options.
Nestle said it was patenting its findings and would begin to use the faster-dissolving sugar across a range of its confectionery products from 2018. The company declined to say whether it will use the technology in other product categories, as it’s waiting for the patent to be published, a spokesman said.
Nestle is not the first company to experiment with designer molecules. Back in 2010 PepsiCo designed a salt molecule that it said would allow it to use less sodium without affecting the taste of its snacks, which include Cheetos.