More to sugar replacement than sweetness: research body

Sugar affects texture, viscosity and mouthfeel, according to Leatherhead Food Research

Food manufacturers should consider the full sensory impact of replacing sugar as they strive to meet Public Health England’s reduction guidelines, a research body has claimed.

Selecting the most appropriate sweetener, sweetness enhancer or ingredient blend for a specific product was “not always straightforward”, as sugar contributed to texture, viscosity and mouthfeel – as well as sweetness – according to Leatherhead Food Research.

The research agency has launched a white paper, ‘Sensory science addresses sugar reduction challenges’, to help food manufacturers work their way through the issue.

The paper highlighted challenges associated with commonly used artificial and natural sweeteners including aspartame and stevia, such as bitter notes and lingering sweetness.

Scientific approaches that can be used

It outlined scientific approaches that can be used to assess the sensory experience of products after sugar has been replaced or reduced.

Preliminary sensory techniques, such as discrimination testing of potential substitutes, can be an effective way to boost the efficiency of reformulation, said Leatherhead senior consumer and sensory scientist Elena Patra, who authored the paper.

“Reformulation takes time, but using trained sensory panellists at the outset to rate trial samples can streamline the process,” she explained.

“It means that full trial formulations only need to be prepared using shortlisted substitutes. These then go forward for professional profiling and consumer trials.”

The use of microscopy

The white paper covers numerous profiling techniques. It also suggests the use of microscopy alongside sensory evaluation to provide a deeper understanding of how different sugar substitutes impact the flavour profile.

Meanwhile, researchers behind a human taste study carried out by the Flavour and Sensory Science Centre at the University of Reading have concluded that naturally sweet prebiotic fibres could replace high-calorie sugars in food and drink products.

Working with a panel of 10 experts to test the sweetness of six customised prebiotic sweeteners developed by OptiBiotix, the study found that they demonstrated sweetness of between 140 to 223 times the sweetness of an equivalent concentration of sugar.

All of the naturally sweet prebiotics were oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates that have between three and 10 simple sugars linked together.

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