Cal Bewicke, president of Ethical Naturals, said his company saw a huge opportunity for natural, no calorie sweeteners in light of the impending changes to the Nutrition Facts panel applied to food products in the United States. Among the changes, which will go into effect next year, will be a specific callout for ‘added sugars.’ While no one knows exactly how consumers will react to this new information (they haven’t seen it yet), many formulators aren’t waiting around to find out.
Scramble to replace sugar
“We saw that there was a high demand now for naturally based sweeteners. We launched this product at the IFT show in Las Vegas and there was a high degree of interest. A lot of companies in the food industry are looking to lower the calories in their products in the coming year or so,” Bewicke told NutraIngredients-USA.
Monk fruit is 180 times sweeter than sugar, which is the gold standard for taste and functional performance. Stevia is sweeter yet—up to 300 times as sweet as sugar. Such high intensity sweeteners strike the tongue in ways that can bring up troubling flavor notes. Stevia formulators have for years struggled with that ingredient’s licorice-like or metallic after notes. Monk fruit has had its taste challenges too, Bewicke said.
“We have been developing this ingredient for a while. To start with it had an exceptionally good taste profile,” Bewicke said. He said further development work on the ingredient using his company’s extraction expertise developed with other botanical extracts has improved the ingredient further.
“The exact processing method we use is what eliminates the bitter or off color compounds that impart that bitter aftertaste that is characteristic of some other lo han guo (monk fruit) sweeteners,” he said.
Replacing functional properties
Bewicke said the ingredient is stable under all typical food processing operations, such as baking, mixing and pasteurization. In the supplement world, the ingredient could have applications in sport nutrition protein powder products as well as sachets and nutrition bars. In the food world, work would need to be done to account for the missing functional properties of the sugar that’s been eliminated, such as viscosity, bulking, browning and so forth.
“Because this sweetener is 180 times as sweet as sugar, you are removing in the high 90th percentile of the total mass. How a formulator deals with that will be individual to each formulation,” Bewicke said.
Bewicke said in his view much of current interest has to do with the impending ingredient call out regulations. Ethical Natural’s other products focus on specific health claims, and Bewicke said there is not much data to support the notion that lowering calories in a food product will have much health benefit one way or the other.
“There is not one product that is going to solve the obesity epidemic. No one is really sure of the causes,” he said.