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.

Please, share this article if you liked it.

Similar articles

Right now we have no more articles on the subject.