Sweet from nature – the sweet jouney (part 5 of 6)

The crux with sugar of all kinds, most sugar alcohols and highly processed bulk sweeteners is that they give too much energy and too high GI in relation to their sweetness. Therefore, the solution to sugar reduction can be found in the territory of high-intensity sweeteners. But many consumers are sceptical of artificial sweeteners, to put it mildly. Therefore, our sweetening journey continues – in search of the holy grail of sugar reduction. In this chapter, we examine high-intensity sweet substances of natural origin.

26 November 2020 •

In the pre­vi­ous arti­cle, we left behind sug­ars, sug­ar alco­hols, and oth­er bulk sweet­en­ers behind us and we now set the course towards high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ers. The first we encoun­tered was arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers. They were no good, so we left their chem­i­cal world and con­tin­ued into the wild.

Back to nature

Ordinary sug­ar types can be extract­ed from plants by chop­ping and steep­ing them, fil­ter­ing the decoc­tion and final­ly refin­ing the sug­ar. The most obvi­ous exam­ple is reg­u­lar sug­ar (sac­cha­rose) which is extract­ed from sug­ar beets or sug­ar cane.

But sug­ar is not the only sweet sub­stance that can be extract­ed from plants in the same or a sim­i­lar man­ner. The plant king­dom con­tains many oth­er sweet substances.

One exam­ple is osladin, which is 500 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar and is found in the rhi­zomes of the fern poly­pody.

Another is mogro­sides, 300 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar, found in monk fruit of the Chinese plant luo han guo, which belongs to the same fam­i­ly as cucum­ber and melon.

A third exam­ple is brazzein which is 2,000 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar and is extract­ed from the fruit of the West African climb­ing plant oubli.

But none of these is yet approved in the EU: But, two oth­er sweet sub­stances from plants are.

High intensive sweet substances from natural sources

For foods sold with­in the EU, there are as yet only two approved high-inten­si­ty sweet sub­stances from nat­ur­al sources.

Steviol gly­co­sides are extract­ed from the leaves of the plant stevia.

Steviol gly­co­sides (E 960) are twelve close­ly relat­ed sub­stances which are 200–350 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar and that are extract­ed from the ste­via plant. Except for the ste­vi­ol gly­co­side Rebaudioside M (often abbre­vi­at­ed as Reb M), they have, to a vary­ing degree, a bit­ter taste and metal­lic after­taste. Reb M is almost iden­ti­cal in taste to sug­ar, except the fact that it’s 350 times sweet­er. But the most com­mon­ly used ste­vi­ol gly­co­side is so far Rebaudioside A (abbre­vi­at­ed as Reb A).

Thaumatin (E 957) is about 2,000 to 3,000 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar and is extract­ed from the West African plant katemfe. It gives a long-last­ing sweet­ness with a liquorice-like after­taste. Thaumatin can also be used as a flavour enhancer in some foods.

High inten­sive sweet sub­stances from a nat­ur­al source and their sweet­ness rel­a­tive to reg­u­lar sug­ar, gly­caemic index (GI) with white bread as a ref­er­ence and ener­gy content.
High inten­sive sweet sub­stances from a nat­ur­al source Sweetness GI Energy
Steviol gly­co­sides (E960) 200–350 × 0 0 kcal/​g*
Thaumatin (E957) 2 000–3 000 × 0 0 kcal/​g*
* Contains ener­gy but con­tributes in neg­li­gi­ble amounts due to the small amount need­ed to give sweetness.

Almost there

Steviol gly­co­sides and thau­matin sounds too good to be true: sweet­ness with­out calo­ries, with no effect on the blood sug­ar lev­el, and from sub­stances from a nat­ur­al source. Have we final­ly hit the jackpot?

No, sor­ry…

The prob­lem with high-inten­si­ty sweet sub­stances is pre­cise that they are high-inten­si­ty sweet. For exam­ple, a mere three grams of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides will give the same sweet­ness as a kilo­gram of reg­u­lar sug­ar. So, if you replace a kilo­gram of sug­ar with three grams of ste­vi­ol gly­co­side, what do you replace the remain­ing 997 grams in the prod­uct with?

It is very rarely pos­si­ble to sim­ply remove the reg­u­lar sug­ar and replace it with just ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides. Something else must be added to com­pen­sate for the vol­ume and struc­ture that reg­u­lar sug­ar brings to a prod­uct. The sug­ar has oth­er prop­er­ties that must be com­pen­sat­ed too. And of course, the taste of reg­u­lar sug­ar is about much more than just sweet­ness. All of which much be replaced.

And if that wasn’t enough, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides and oth­er high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ers have flavours of their own that we are not used to. We need to take that into account as well.

This is why it’s not a quick fix to just replace reg­u­lar sug­ar with high-inten­si­ty sweet sub­stances from nat­ur­al sources. Each food or bev­er­age presents indi­vid­ual chal­lenges to find solu­tions that won’t alter the sweet­ness, taste and mouthfeel.

It takes a kind of exper­tise and equip­ment that most don’t have. And it takes time and a lot of money.

So, is there no eas­i­er solu­tion with a short­er time to market?

Yes, there is.

In next arti­cle, which will be the last in this art­cie series, we reach the goal of our jour­ney into the world of sweet­en­ing: The sweet­ened fibres.

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