Stevia – sugar reduction in practice

Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to sugar reduction in foods. In this article, we take a closer look at one of the most talked-about in recent years – steviol glycosides. The natural origin and absence of calories make them a very interesting proposition. But there are some things you need to be aware of if you want to use this remarkable ingredient.

17 March 2020 •

Sugar reduc­tion is excit­ing but com­plex work. In an arti­cle series, we will look at some ingre­di­ents that can be used to reduce sug­ar in foods. How can the ingre­di­ents be used and what should be con­sid­ered? These are ques­tions we should answer!

In this first arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides.

What are steviol glycosides?

Steviol gly­co­sides belong to the cat­e­go­ry of high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ers of nat­ur­al ori­gin. Steviol gly­co­sides are a high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­er that comes from the ste­via plant. Steviol gly­co­sides are not the same as ste­via, although it is often used almost as syn­onyms. Steviol gly­co­sides are the extract extract­ed from ste­via and are approx­i­mate­ly 50-450 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sugar.

The main rea­son why ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are becom­ing a pop­u­lar alter­na­tive to sug­ar is that – unlike sug­ar – they do not con­tain any calo­ries nor raise blood sugar.

But in what foods can you reduce sug­ar with the help of ste­vi­ol glycosides?

Is it a match?

Steviol gly­co­sides fit well in a vari­ety of foods. They can be used in ice cream, break­fast cere­als, sauces, dif­fer­ent types of drinks and much more. But it may not be used in all foods; we must com­ply with the EU rules for the foods in which ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are cur­rent­ly approved for use.

These can be found in the Regulation (EC) No 1333-2008 European Parliament and of the Council. You will also find the dosage allowed for each food. The dosage is indi­cat­ed in accept­ed dai­ly intake (ADI). It is an esti­mate of a cer­tain amount that can be con­sumed dai­ly for a life­time, with­out sig­nif­i­cant health risks. The amount is stat­ed in ste­vi­ol equiv­a­lents (see fact box).

You will also find if a cer­tain food has any restric­tions or excep­tions. Chewing gum, for exam­ple is only per­mit­ted with ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides when no sug­ar is added.

Here is a sim­pli­fied list of the foods that ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are approved for use with:

  • Flavoured fer­ment­ed milk prod­ucts includ­ing heat treat­ed products
  • Edible ices
  • Fruits, berries and veg­eta­bles in vine­gar, oil or brine
  • Preparations of fruit, berries and veg­eta­bles oth­er than compote
  • Various types of jams, mar­malades and jellies
  • Wide spreads based on fruit, berries and vegetables
  • Cocoa and chocolate
  • Confectionery prod­ucts
  • Chewing gum
  • Decorations, coat­ings and fillings
  • Breakfast cere­als
  • Fine bak­ery products
  • Processed fish and fish­ery prod­ucts includ­ing mol­luscs and crustaceans
  • Various forms of table sweeteners
  • Soups and broths
  • Sauces
  • Different forms of diet products
  • Fruit nec­tar, veg­etable nec­tar and sim­i­lar products
  • Flavoured bev­er­ages
  • Alcoholic bev­er­ages
  • Different forms of snacks and nuts
  • Desserts
  • Different forms of dietary supplements

Many to choose from

Now we come to a del­i­cate chapter.

You need to decide what kind of ste­vi­ol gly­co­side you want to use; there are sev­er­al varieties.

There are 12 dif­fer­ent types of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides that are approved for use in foods, of which Rebaudiana A (which is often abbre­vi­at­ed as Reb A) belongs to the most used. It is also rel­a­tive­ly affordable.

Recently, new alter­na­tives have emerged such as Rebaudiana M (which is often abbre­vi­at­ed as Reb M). There is a small pro­por­tion of Reb M in the ste­via plant, mak­ing it more expen­sive than Reb A. Reb M is more rem­i­nis­cent of sug­ar and lacks the liquorice-like after­taste found in Reb A. Therefore, no oth­er ingre­di­ents that mask the after­taste are need­ed to the same extent.

Does this mean that Reb M is the best option and that you should always choose it over Reb A or any of the others?

No, it’s not that sim­ple. It depends on many fac­tors, such as the type of food you want to use the ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides in, oth­er pos­si­ble ingre­di­ents, taste expe­ri­ence require­ments and pricing.

To facil­i­tate this deci­sion-mak­ing process, a work­ing method is need­ed in which you sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly arrive at which ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are suit­able for your par­tic­u­lar food. This means that you will prob­a­bly have to do exten­sive tests to find the right bal­ance in terms of sweet­ness, taste and mouth­feel. It must also be inves­ti­gat­ed whether the prod­uct can be man­u­fac­tured on an indus­tri­al scale and that the prod­uct main­tains a sta­ble qual­i­ty from man­u­fac­tur­ing to end consumer.


Steviol glycosides and pastries

Unlike some arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers (such as aspar­tame), ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides can with­stand heat. Therefore, it is tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble to use ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides in, for exam­ple, buns, cakes and oth­er items that must be cooked in the oven. But it is not includ­ed in EC Directive 1333-2008. Thus, it is not allowed in the EU.

The rea­son for this is accord­ing to the EU that there has nev­er been an approved sub­sti­tute for sug­ar in baked goods. Another rea­son is the risk of over-con­sump­tion of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides if they were in buns, cakes and the like. The excep­tion is essoblat­en and wafers – niche prod­ucts, which are usu­al­ly very thin and which the aver­age con­sumer does not eat very much of.

Bulk Ingredients

Steviol gly­co­sides often need bud­dies to get the job done. The sweet­ness is there, no doubt about it – but ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides lack the sugar’s vol­ume (bulk) and many of its func­tion­al prop­er­ties. Sugar cre­ates a love­ly tex­ture and mouth­feel. Therefore, any form of bulk ingre­di­ent becomes extra impor­tant if you choose to replace the sug­ar alto­geth­er. Sugar and glu­cose syrup are bulk ingre­di­ents (more pre­cise­ly: bulk sweet­en­ers) but they also have neg­a­tive effects that we do not want.

What alter­na­tives are there?

There are plen­ty of ingre­di­ents and sweet­en­ers that go well with ste­vi­ol glycosides.

More friends

Bulk ingre­di­ents also include dif­fer­ent types of sug­ar alco­hols and fibres. Steviol gly­co­sides fit well with all kinds of bulk ingre­di­ents, sug­ars as well as fibres. Sugar alco­hols con­tain few­er calo­ries and do not affect blood sug­ar lev­els as much as sugar.

A suc­cess­ful exam­ple is mix­ing ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides with the sug­ar alco­hol ery­thri­tol. In the US, it has become com­mon to com­bine these two into drinks. Then you also get an end prod­uct that is com­plete­ly calo­rie-free. 3.5 per cent of ery­thri­tol is the per­mis­si­ble con­tent in the US. In Europe, the max­i­mum con­tent is 1.6%.

Because some ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides have a liquorice-like after­taste, there may be a need to neu­tral­ize the taste expe­ri­ence. It is there­fore rel­a­tive­ly com­mon to com­bine ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides with fruc­toses such as corn syrup, fruit juices and honey.

Steviol gly­co­sides also go hand in hand with arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers such as sucralose and ace­sul­fame K and sweet­en­ers of nat­ur­al ori­gin such as mogro­sides.

A compromise

As you now know, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides work well with reg­u­lar sug­ar. And although we may actu­al­ly want to get rid of the sug­ar alto­geth­er, in some prod­ucts there may be a point in com­bin­ing ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides with sug­ar. Especially in cas­es where the amount of calo­ries is not the most impor­tant, but where for var­i­ous rea­sons we want to stay away from arti­fi­cial high-inten­si­ty sweeteners.

It can be a suc­cess­ful com­pro­mise. The calo­rie lev­el decreas­es slight­ly, but the func­tion­al prop­er­ties of the sug­ar are uti­lized. The ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, in turn, con­tribute with their image – that they are seen by con­sumers as a ‘nat­ur­al’ ingredient.

Srdjan gets the last word

We let our expert and food engi­neer Srdjan Solaja give his views on what it is like to work with ste­vi­ol glycosides.

– Steviol gly­co­sides can be com­bined with reg­u­lar sug­ar. But the ques­tion you have to ask your­self is what you want to achieve. If you want to reduce the amount of calo­ries, it is bet­ter to skip the sug­ar com­plete­ly, says Srdjan Solaja.

According to Srdjan, work­ing with ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides is a com­plex mat­ter. It takes a lot of exper­i­men­ta­tion and it is labo­ri­ous to find the right taste and the right bulk.

– Some appli­ca­tions can be rel­a­tive­ly easy to work with, while oth­ers can be incred­i­bly com­pli­cat­ed. Steviol gly­co­sides are very sweet. Therefore, it does not require large quan­ti­ties, which is a good thing. But this is an ingre­di­ent that places great demands on dos­ing and mix­ing tech­niques, says Srdjan Solaja.

Srdjan’s three tips

  1. Steviol gly­co­sides are sev­er­al hun­dred times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar. It is there­fore impor­tant to find the right dosage. Both taste and sweet­ness will be neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed if you fail.
  2. Steviol gly­co­sides are com­plete­ly calo­rie-free and do not raise blood sug­ar. They are espe­cial­ly suit­able for peo­ple with dia­betes or obe­si­ty but pay atten­tion to oth­er less suit­able friends in the recipe.
  3. Prepare for the use of bulk. If you remove sug­ar in, for exam­ple, jams or desserts and replace it with ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, you must add some form of bulk ingre­di­ent to off­set the sug­ar volume.

A helping hand

You may want to use ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides but think of it as com­pli­cat­ed and resource-inten­sive work. Don’t wor­ry – please con­tact us. We work with both ready-made appli­ca­tions and tai­lor-made solu­tions. We help you along the way based on your needs.

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