Confections for the Health-Conscious
May 2004 Issue--Demand for sugar-free and reduced-sugar confections is on the rise now that sugar is viewed not just as a calorie contributor but also as a carbohydrate with a poor glycemic index. However, sugar has many different roles in confectionery products, making its substitution very challenging.
Replacing Sugar's Multi-functions
Among sugar's functions are sweetness, viscosity, bulk, color development, lowering water activity (Aw), crystallization and vitreous transition. Because of sugar's variety of functions, it is practically impossible to replace it with just one single ingredient.
Total sugar replacement must be based on a specific application and desired results, and usually requires the use of bulking agents (such as polyols and polydextrose) combined with high-intensity sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin, etc.).
To ensure the success of a new sugar-free formulation, the taste and texture must be every bit as delectable as the original. For most confectionery products, advanced technology and quality ingredients can help to fulfill this challenge.
To increase value and make a product more attractive to the consumer, simply replacing sugars with traditional ingredients is not enough. However, by using functional ingredients that provide significant health benefits, there are abundant opportunities for developing innovative and desirable confections.
One of the ingredient options available to improve health while replacing sugars is a polyol widely found in nature called xylitol, and which is now available from GTC Nutrition (Golden, Colo.). Different from other sugar alcohols, xylitol not only delivers the same sweetness intensity of sucrose but also fights the main bacteria responsible for tooth decay and plaque formation, Streptococci mutans. It also helps minimize acute otitis media and provides a very pleasant cooling sensation desirable for mints and citrus-flavored products.
Add Sweetness and FiberAnother innovative way to enrich confections is with a prebiotic fiber that will lead to numerous health benefits with very small inclusion rates. For example, a large body of science demonstrates that NutraFlora[r] short chain fructo-oligosaccharides (scFOS) may increase calcium absorption, improve immunity and intestinal function and significantly increase beneficial probiotic microflora with as little as 1-3g per day, making this soluble fiber very cost effective. The structure-function claims associated with these benefits may allow label communications that add further consumer appeal.
As part of a total sugar replacement system, scFOS can help overcome flavor challenges because it is mildly sweet, yet completely safe for diabetics. Additionally, scFOS can be used to reduce calories because it contains only 1.5 Kcal/g, compared to 4 Kcal/g of regular carbohydrates.
As an added benefit, the technical properties of scFOS are similar to sucrose, so it does not change the characteristics of confections like other fibers might. Moreover, its mildly sweet, clean taste may improve the sensorial profile of sugar-free confectionery products by enhancing flavors and masking undesirable aftertastes like bitter, metallic or burning that may come from the high-intensity sweeteners or glycerin that are common to these formulations.
Adding a combination of minerals (calcium, magnesium, etc.), xylitol and scFOS make sugar-free confections healthier and may expand their consumption not only for adults, but also for children. Because scFOS increases mineral absorption, a synergistic effect occurs that maximizes bone health and maintenance benefits.
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