Manufacturers have rushed to reformulate to qualify for, “no added sugar” or “_% less sugar” claims. Yet replacing nutritive sweeteners with artificial sweeteners conflicts with consumer desire for clean-label “healthy” and “natural” ingredients. The demand for alternative sweeteners is such that, according to a report by the Freedonia Group, annual sales will hit $1.6 billion by 2020, or roughly a third higher than in 2010.

This trend opened the doors to fruit sweeteners, and they continue to gain ground in product development, especially in bakery items as well as sauces and condiments. Apple sauce and prune purée have been touted for years as natural replacements to both sugar and some of the fat in some bakery formulations. While these continue to help manufacturers boost the health profile of baked goods, raisin and fig syrups, too, continue to intrigue formulators.

Currently making formulators headway among fruit syrups is date syrup, sometimes also referred to as date honey or date molasses. Popular in the Middle East and North Africa for centuries, the growing interest in the culinary trends of those regions are inspiring its crossover use.

Pomegranate syrup, a staple of Persian cuisine traditions, while still relatively “undiscovered” will be another fruit sweetener that will become more familiar to mainstream consumers in the coming years. On the other hand, popularity of the widely known agave syrup has maintained strong, at between 5% and 8% CAGR. Helping recently is its promotion as a vegan alternative to honey. 

However, agave’s high fructose content—anywhere from 60-90%—has caused some consumers to be disillusioned by agave’s perceived healthier nutritional profile. With so many alternatives hitting the market, plus high demand for agave to feed the tequila boom, agave sweetener sales are likely to plateau.

According to the makers of Just Date Syrup, date syrup has a low glycemic index but, more importantly, touts fiber and minerals, such as potassium, in measurable amounts per 1 Tbsp. serving (about 15g). Date syrups tend to have about a 70 brix, providing sweetness intensity; so, less is needed in application. With a fructose content just below 50%, date syrup might be increasingly favored as a replacement for syrups high in fructose, such as agave, if not for date syrup’s high color and flavor notes.


With the Grain

When considering nutritive sweeteners, a natural choice is pure malt extract. Pure malt extract is produced from 100% pure barley, wheat or rye with no processing agents or artificial flavor, color or additives. Although it’s not gluten free, it helps achieve clean and simple labels, and at 6-8g protein, it is the most nutritious of all nutritive sweeteners. Most malt extract is produced from barley, a sustainable non-GMO North American crop, and labeled simply as “malt extract.”

An impressive range of specialty malt extracts is available, from light to dark colored, with each variety delivering varying levels of sweetness and function. Light malt extract has a subtle malty flavor. At 1-3%, it also improves fermentation, crumb, and browning in yeast-raised doughs. Specialty malt extracts produced from intensely dried and deeply colored malts will provide less sweetness while naturally adjusting color and flavor when used at 2-10%. Malt can also extend shelflife in baked goods.

Most malt extracts are offered as liquid and powder. The supplier can help identify the best forum for each application, and whether liquid or powder is the best option. One important consideration when formulating with liquid or dry malt extract is storage. Liquid light malt extract can develop color over time when stored at warm temperatures. Powdered malt extract is highly hygroscopic and will clump if not properly sealed in an air-tight container. Properly sealed, dry malt extract has a longer shelf life than liquid.

Grain sweeteners certainly are nothing new, with malted barley syrup and rice syrup enjoying long-standing popularity among health food makers. With allergens a consideration for many processors, the aforementioned rice, plus sorghum, tapioca, and oat sweeteners are catching on.

Sorghum syrup, often compared in flavor and color to molasses, has been trending in recent years. Oat syrup, high in maltose, is lighter and has a pleasing toasty back note that makes it suitable for breads, baked goods, bars, and cereals. Most grain-derived sweeteners are available in a range of dextrose equivalencies of clarity for both sweetness and color stability, with no or low flavor impact. Moreover, they can be provided not only as syrups but as powdered syrup solids and are excellent neutral and natural alternatives to traditional syrups.

With ingredient companies on the lookout for newer sweetener sources, especially from roots and tubers, we can expect such relative recent arrivals as jicama syrup, sweet potato syrup, and yacon syrup (from the inulin-rich tuber of a South American plant related to the daisy) to appear on more labels of foods and beverages targeting health-minded consumers.