Sugar-free confections have been around for many years because they offer the general consumer population non-cariogenic product alternatives and individuals with diabetes a safe alternative to sugar-based products. However, the options for good-tasting, high-quality products traditionally have been few because of the limited availability of ingredients that could be used as bulk sugar substitutes or bulk sugar replacers.

In the last several years, new bulk sugar replacers have expanded the tools that can be used by confectionery technologists to make high-quality and great-tasting products. A visit to local grocery stores, supermarkets, drug stores and other outlets where confections are sold showcases the variety of sugar-free products now available to consumers. In addition to sugar-free chewing gums, products include hard and soft candies, chocolates, wafers, cough drops and many confectionery products.

According to ACNielsen (Schaumburg, Ill.), dietetic candy sales increased 95.7% in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2004. The bulk of the increase was attributed to the introduction of sugar-free chocolate and chocolate-based products.

Sugar-free by Any Other Name

FDA regulations require that products making a sugar-free claim contain no more than 0.5g of sugar per serving. Food labeling regulations define the serving size in accordance with product category. In addition, packaging also may define the serving size. The FDA determined the reference amounts (serving size) customarily consumed per eating occasion as 3g for chewing gums, 2g for hard candies and breath mints, 5g for roll hard candies, 15g for hard candies and 40g for all other candies. It is advisable to check the food labeling regulations for specific product labeling, since the there are other issues that affect labeling (such as packaging).

Sugar alcohols, or polyols, constitute the major portion of sugar-replacer options available to the food technologist. The human body does not require insulin to metabolize polyols and, therefore, they are alternatives to sugar (sucrose). Additionally, these products are not completely metabolized, so they have fewer calories than regular carbohydrates. The caloric density of some of the most widely used sugar replacers (excluding intense sweeteners) can be seen in the chart “Counting Calories.”

Thus, it is clear that using these materials instead of sugar to provide the bulk needed to make quality confections may allow a reduction of calories in the finished products. Here is a look at some of the characteristics of these ingredients.

Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSH): HSH are made through the hydrogenation of syrups such as glucose, maltitol and sorbitol. HSH basically are a mixture of sorbitol, maltitol and hydrogenated saccharides (such as maltotriitol). Controlling the extent of hydrolysis determines the composition of the finished syrup.

A variety of HSH products with different compositions are available on the U.S. market from several suppliers. Some of these syrups are sold as sorbitol syrups (containing more than 50% sorbitol), others as maltitol syrups (containing more than 50% maltitol). Usually, products that do not contain one specific polyol as the major component are labeled or referred to as HSH.

HSH are used extensively in sugar-free candies because of their humectant properties. In addition, HSH do not crystallize, allowing the production of sugar-free candies using the same processing methods and equipment used to make sugar candies. They are classified as nutritive sweeteners and have between 40% and 90% of the sweetness of sucrose. The sweetness of HSH depends on the major polyol present. For example, maltitol-rich HSH are sweeter than sorbitol-rich HSH.

HSH, like other polyols, are regarded as non-cariogenic because bacteria in the mouth do not ferment them. HSH have been self-affirmed as GRAS by manufacturers, and the FDA has accepted the filing of these petitions.

Sorbitol: Sorbitol has been used in foods for over 50 years. It was discovered in 1872 and occurs naturally in a wide variety of fruits and berries. The FDA classified sorbitol as GRAS, and it is approved in numerous countries. Sorbitol is about 60% as sweet as sucrose. Sorbitol has been and is widely used in sugar-free confections including chewing gums and candies.

Maltitol: Maltitol is the sweetest of the sugar alcohols, having a sweetness equivalency of 90% of sucrose sweetness. It is manufactured through the hydrogenation of maltose, a starch derivative. Because maltitol is almost as sweet as sucrose, it can be used in many applications without added intense sweeteners. Maltitol is available in a syrup form and as a crystalline powder. Crystalline maltitol is the most widely used polyol in the manufacture of sugar-free chocolates because of its low hygroscopicity, high melting point and stability. Maltitol also is used in chocolate coatings and is reported to have fat mimetic properties in frozen desserts. Maltitol has been self-affirmed as GRAS in a petition that was accepted for filing by the FDA.

Isomalt: Isomalt is made from sugar and is a white, crystalline and odorless powder. It is a mixture of two disaccharide alcohols: glucomannitol and glucosorbitol. It does not require insulin during its metabolism and, accordingly, it is useful for individuals with diabetes who must control or monitor their sugar intake. Isomalt has about 45% of the sweetness of sugar and, when utilized in sugar-free confections, it usually is used in combination with intense sweeteners. Isomalt does not promote tooth decay. Functionally, isomalt behaves similarly to sucrose in applications such as hard candies, toffee, fudge and cough drops.

Lactitol: Lactitol is made from lactose and is only 40% as sweet as sucrose. It has low hygroscopicity, making it useful in confections such as chocolates, chewing gums and boiled candies (replacing sucrose). It usually is used together with intense sweeteners in order to match the sweetness of sucrose. Like all other sugar alcohols, lactitol does not require insulin for its metabolism, making it suitable for individuals with diabetes.

Mannitol: Mannitol is widely found in nature in marine algae, in tree exudates and in mushrooms. It is an isomer of sorbitol and is produced by the hydrogenation of glucose syrups. Mannitol is non-hygroscopic, making it ideal for use as a dusting powder in chewing gums. It also is used in soft candies for seeding purposes, that is, to initiate crystallization. Like all other polyols, mannitol does not promote tooth decay and does not require insulin for its metabolism.

Xylitol: This polyol is a white, crystalline sugar replacer as sweet as sucrose. It occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It has a pleasant, sweet taste and produces a cooling sensation in the oral cavity. This characteristic makes it exceptionally useful in breath mints and chewing gums. The scientific literature shows strong evidence that xylitol has anti-cariogenic properties.

Erythritol: Erythritol occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, as well as in mushrooms and other foods. Erythritol has the sweetness potency of 70% of sucrose and is very low in calories. Consumption of erythritol is not associated with laxative effects because of its mode of absorption. Erythritol may find applications in candies and pressed mints.

Polydextrose: Polydextrose is a glucose polymer, with some bound sorbitol and citric acid. It is not a polyol. Approved by the FDA in 1981, it is used extensively as a sugar replacer, soluble fiber and fat replacer. It is used in sugar-free candies and chocolates.

In addition to the above-mentioned bulk sugar replacers, candy technologists need to use intense sweeteners to supplement sweetness levels and bring them up to the level of sucrose. This article will not cover the intense sweeteners approved in the U.S. in detail. However, it is important to note that those approved include saccharin, acesulfame-k, aspartame, sucralose and neotame. Combinations of these sweeteners provide the desired sweetness profile.

Typical Starter Formulations

A typical formulation for sugar-free chewing gum can be seen in the chart “A Formulation to Chew On.”

  • Heat the gum base to about 180 degrees F in a sigma blade mixer, and add some sorbitol or maltitol powder while mixing.

  • Add the syrup while mixing; add the flavor oil and powders and continue mixing until all ingredients are completely incorporated.

  • Remove the mass from the mixer; sheet, score and pack.

    The order of addition of some of the ingredients, the type of intense sweetener used and the composition of the gum base will affect the chew and flavor characteristics of the gum. All the polyols mentioned in the formula can be used in making gums, and the choice will depend on cost considerations and desired textural properties.

    The various ingredients mentioned also may be used to prepare sugar-free hard candies. In general, isomalt is used in hard-boiled candies because manufacturers can use the same process to make sugar-based candies. A typical composition of hard candy is given in the chart “Handy Formula for Hard Candy.”

  • Blend the isomalt with water and heat.

  • Add HSH or maltitol syrup, and cook mass until it reaches 250°F to 270°F.

  • Continue cooking until final moisture is about 0.5%.

  • Cool product and add in color and flavors.

    Citric acid or other acidulants may be folded into the mass if a sour candy flavor is desired. The candy is formed while hot and then cut. The flavor and mouthfeel characteristics of hard candy may be affected by the use of a bulk sugar replacer, the choice of intense sweetener and other optional ingredients. Polydextrose, as well as other polyols or combinations thereof, may be used to affect the melting properties of the candy.

    The chart, “Packing it In,” offers a typical formulation for a compressed candy.

  • Dry blend the selected polyol, flavor and color.

  • Add magnesium stearate and mix well.

  • Compress the material into tablets.

    The choice for which polyol to use in a compressed candy is dependent on cost considerations, hardness of candy and other desired attributes.

    Lastly, a typical formulation for a sugar-free milk chocolate is given in the chart “Charming Chocolate.” In general, the polyols and polydextrose behave similarly to sugar in this application, and the processing is comparable. The processing steps include blending, refining, conching, tempering, molding and cooling. The level of intense sweetener will depend on the polyol used.

    As it is clearly illustrated in the typical formulations, and in the numerous sugar-free products in the marketplace, the current ingredients available on the market enable the food technologist to formulate products of excellent quality.


    Showcase: Polyols and Bulking Agents, and High-intensity Sweeteners

    Confections formulated to be healthier do not have to have inferior taste. With Litesse®, lactitol and xylitol as sugar replacers, food companies can develop truly delicious sugar-free and reduced-calorie chocolate and confectionery products. These innovative ingredients also can increase fiber and protect teeth—all while improving flavor, texture and mouthfeel. The low-glycemic ingredients are suitable for low-carb consumers and people who want to reduce their sugar intake, such as diabetics. These ingredients will help meet the high demand for sugar-free, low-carb and low-glycemic confections. Danisco Sweeteners, Donna Brooks, 800-255-6837, ext. 2521,

    These two sugar replacement systems can be used in bakery, confectionery, dairy and many other applications to replace sugar. Roxlor International's BeFlora and BakeFlora are fiber-based products with a sweetness equivalent to sucrose. They provide the bulk and sweetness needed for sugar-free or low-carbohydrate foods. BeFlora is used as a straight sugar substitute, whereas BakeFlora is generally blended with sugar alcohols. Both products improve the mouthfeel of a product, mask aftertastes in a product, and provide sweetness without aftertaste. Roxlor International, Robert Veghte, 302-778-4166,,

    This polydextrose is a premium, low-calorie bulking agent used to provide body, texture and mouthfeel in reduced- and low-calorie foods. Tate & Lyle's STA-LITE® polydextrose can replace all of the sweetener and part of the flour solids in those foods. It also can replace fully caloric bulking agents. The ingredient is non-sweet, and provides only 1Kcal/g. It is functionally compatible with a wide range of other ingredients, including nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, starches, fats, hydrocolloids, cellulosics and flavorants. Tate & Lyle, John Browning, 800-526-5728,,

    Natural candy: A line of all-natural sweeteners can save the cost of additional sweeteners, colors and flavors, and make ingredient declarations cleaner and more label friendly. Complex flavor profiles accentuate the warm, sweet brown flavors of chocolate and nuts that do not exist in high fructose corn syrups or artificial sweeteners. Chr. Hansen Inc. offers water-soluble products with varying sugar profiles in liquid, dry and organic forms. Products include Rice Syrup, Maltoline Malt, Honey, Cane Juice and Blackstrap Molasses, Nulomoline Invert Sugar, Nulofond and Sucrovert Invertase. The company also offers flavors and colors. Chr. Hansen Inc., Craig Boudreau, 800-558-0802 or

    As Glycemic Index (GI) values gain more attention, processors are looking for ways to control the sugar content of their products. STABILITE™ Polyglycitol (HSH) products from Grain Processing Corp. fit well into the contemporary trend of minimizing sugars and utilizing sugar alcohols in a variety of food formulations in order to minimize GI values. The relatively high molecular weight STABILITE polyols are only minimally sweet and can be utilized in combination with high-intensity sweeteners to replace the typical sugar solids contained within toppings and fillings, ice creams and frozen desserts, confectionery products, as well as in many baked goods. Grain Processing Corp., Bob Bahn, 563-264-4265,,

    Why make hard-pressed tablets the hard way? Candy-Pac‚ Direct Tableting Sugar is a dry fondant sugar manufactured by a patented technique. Micron-sized crystals of pure cane sugar have been bonded with corn syrup to produce an elegant white, free-flowing product. Candy-Pac requires only direct compression to produce the highest quality, hardest candy tablets with excellent compressibility, low hygroscopity, smooth disintegration and mouthfeel characteristics. Domino Specialty Ingredients, 800-446-9763,,

    Due to their technical attributes, these high-intensity sweeteners can be used in low-sugar or sugar-free confectionery products such as hard and soft caramels, jellies, gums, marshmallows, marzipan, breath-freshening strips and intensely flavored mints. In chewing gum, Nutrinova's Sunett (acesulfame-K) can provide fast-acting impact sweetness while facilitating continued release of the sweetener over time. Sunett's high solubility and synergistic properties render it ideal for blends with other non-nutritive and nutritive sweeteners. Sunett/aspartame or Sunett/sucralose blends often are used in sugar-free gum formulations, but the optimum blend is dependent on other ingredients and processing methods. Nutrinova Inc., Graham Hall, 732-271-7221,,