Despite a myriad of alternative sweeteners, reducing sugar in foods and beverages is a big challenge for product developers. In addition to a number of technical issues involved, consumers seek ingredients perceived as “clean” or “natural.” When stevia entered the panoply of sugar replacers, it held great promise and, indeed, swiftly led the pack.
Stevia’s attraction was that it is a naturally sourced sweetener, derived from the leaves of a South American shrub with an ancient traditional history. The plant contains compounds called glycosides, which are molecules of simple sugars connected to another molecule. These glycosides are called “steviosides,” the main stevioside being rebaudioside-A.
With a level of sweetness some 150-300 times that of sucrose, stevia is an essentially non-caloric, high-intensity sweetener. However, stevia—especially rebaudioside-A— created specific challenges for product developers due to a lingering bitter licorice-like aftertaste, limiting the products it could be successfully used in, especially as a complete substitute for sugar or other caloric sweeteners.
Formulators worked on improving the taste of rebaudioside-A by blending it with other sweeteners and later by improving purification. Still, a large part of the bitterness resides in the glycoside itself.
Recent advancements led the way to a solution to the stevia problem. By expanding research into all the components that occur naturally in the stevia leaf—there are some two dozen known active sweet components—then characterizing each one’s taste profile and manipulating the respective amounts, ingredient technologists have been able to modulate the overall results.
As the stevia leaf ages, some of the rebaudioside-A converts into rebaudioside-D, then into other rebaudiosides, making the flavors sweeter and more complex. These different glycosides have distinctly different properties and tend to act like three very different sweeteners. Their unique characteristics range from taste to solubility as well as how they interact with other ingredients.
Rebaudioside-D for example can be used to attain a 10% or higher sucrose equivalent value (SEV), without any bitter aftertaste, although it is limited in some applications due to its lower solubility. The cost of extracting this glycoside is higher than the more common rebaudioside-A, but even at low usage levels rebaudioside-D can lend its desirable attributes to other glycosides. Blending rebaudioside-D with other glycosides also eliminates the solubility issue, increases sweetness onset while reducing sweetness lingering, and at the same time significantly improves its cost-in-use factor.
Rebaudioside-C is a relative “newcomer,” at first paid less attention because it does not lend sweetness at the same levels as other rebaudiosides. Yet further investigation showed that minute levels of rebaudioside-C can be used to enhance fruitiness and other adjunct flavor notes. The synergy between these glycosides is enhanced further when combined with rebaudioside-A.
Combining the three glycosides offers formulators not only the sweetness profile of sucrose but also eliminates the need for bitter blockers and masking agents that are inevitably used with rebaudioside-A. Additionally, the proportions of Rebaudiosides A, D, and C are unique to each application and far from a slam dunk and offers unique opportunities for suppliers to offer formulators with customized blends for different foods.
“Pyure TRIO blends rebaudiosides A, C and D together to provide an economical solution for deep sugar reduction in most beverage applications,” says Erik Myers, director of new product development for Pyure Brands Inc. “This goes especially for those beverages designed to have fruit-dominant flavors. Developing a clean label, zero-added-sugar beverage with real fruit flavors has never been easier. With the success of this leaf extracted blend, we’re looking forward to continuing developing category specific solutions that make sense for a client’s label and budget.”
The sugar-like sweetness of this trio of rebaudiosides allows product makers to craft a zero-calorie product while maintaining a preferred taste profile with a sweet onset and clean finish. With consumer acceptance of stevia-sweetened products still high, the future of stevia definitely lies in its components. Instead of using steviol glycoside as a single ingredient, or blending it with other sweeteners, the opportunity is in blending it with its derivatives such that, depending on ratios, the combination can be modulated to optimize taste, cost, and performance.
Visit www.pyureingredients.com for more details.
Originally appeared in the October, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Three Are Better Than One.