Sugar reduction: Could the most effective option be… sugar?

1 Jul 2019

Sugar reduction is big business and alternative sweeteners abound – but some manufacturers are changing the way they use sugar itself to achieve the most palatable, sugar-like taste.

Israeli firm DouxMatok has developed an ingredient that is 100% sugar, and the company claims that it can reduce sugar by up to 40% with the same level of sweetness. The trick is manipulation of the sugar molecule, to allow as much of the sugar as possible to get to the mouth’s sweet taste receptors, thereby enhancing the perception of sweetness. The company suggests its ingredient can be used in the same way as ordinary sugar in recipes, without compromising mouthfeel, taste or texture – some of the main challenges manufacturers face when reducing sugar in formulations.

Sugar reduction: Could the most effective option be… sugar?
Restructured sugar could be the ultimate clean label option

The technique appears to be similar to that used by Nestlé, which has developed porous, fast-dissolving sugar crystals to allow for the same sweet perception with less sugar by mass, and it also claims the technology can allow for a 40% sugar reduction. The Swiss food and beverage giant introduced its first chocolate bar sweetened with the hollow sugar ingredient in the UK and Ireland in 2018, and it aims to use it in other confectionery products in the future as part of its strategy to cut sugar across its product portfolio.

The approach mirrors one that already has been used effectively for salt reduction. Tate & Lyle introduced an engineered salt ingredient in 2011, which works by maximising the surface area of the salt relative to their volume, so less is needed for the same perception of saltiness. For both reengineered salt and sugar, the reliance on molecular structure for taste perception means they are only suitable for use in dry products.

For consumers, it seems that public health messages around sugar are getting through, as nearly half (47%) say they intend to reduce their intake, according to a recent global survey from Euromonitor International. But European sugar consumption still far exceeds the World Health Organization recommendation that less than 10% of total calories should come from added sugar – and better still, less than 5% for improved health. That equates to about 25 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet; average sugar consumption in Germany and The Netherlands stands at about 103 grams a day.

Many consumers who aim to reduce their sugar intake also prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners, meaning that options for manufacturers are limited. Natural zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit have come to the fore, and others have opted to switch out regular sugar for other natural caloric sweeteners like honey and agave syrup – but consumers are starting to wise up to the fact that these are just as harmful to their health when consumed in excess as ordinary table sugar.

What is more, there is nothing quite like sugar in terms of taste and functionality in products, which is why restructured sugar is so interesting to manufacturers. If engineered ingredients work as well as their suppliers say they do, they could be just what the industry is looking for – clean label ingredients that help manufacturers reach their healthy reduction goals.