The World Health Organization (W.H.O.), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Heart Association and other public health bodies recommend reducing consumption of soda to reduce added sugar intake. This guidance is premised on an association between excessive sugar consumption and conditions ranging from tooth decay to obesity to type 2 diabetes.

The W.H.O. went as far as issuing a report in October 2016 suggesting the taxation of sugary beverages may help reduce intake of free sugars. Free sugars refer to such monosaccharides as glucose or fructose, and such disaccharides as sucrose or table sugar added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

On July 1, 2017, Cook County of Illinois, home to Chicago, will begin charging a new penny-per-oz tax on thousands of different (caloric and non-caloric) sweetened beverages, including soda, sports drinks, juice drinks, iced teas, lemonades, flavored waters and beverages with zero calories. It is the largest region in the nation to enact a sweetened beverage tax. Other cities in the United States that have implemented beverage tax plans include Albany, Calif.; Berkeley, Calif.; Philadelphia and others.

Such potential beverage market chaos should not discourage manufacturers from designing new low- or no-sugar-added drinks. Consumers are interested, and they are reading labels.

Formulation considerations

When the goal is to reduce or eliminate sugar from beverages, formulators have many sweetener options to choose from. None, however, taste or behave exactly like sugar.

“Reducing added sugars challenges beverage formulators,” said Mark Rainey, vice-president of food marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. “They must consider performance and stability; consumer perception of taste, texture, color and appearance; as well as shelf life, calories, label goals and cost variables.”


Replacing sugar with a single ingredient seldom does the job. Blending sweeteners — and often adding other ingredients — increases the potential for success.

“Each sweetener has a distinct structure and interacts with taste receptors differently to elicit a unique sweet taste,” said Akshay Kumar Anugu, associate-global sweetener development, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill.

It is important to remember with sugar-sweetened beverages, the basic taste of sweet comes on slowly. It builds roundness and then slowly abates. Many high-intensity sweeteners deliver an upfront sweetness and linger. Sugar also has a clean and crisp sweet taste. Many replacements have off flavors.

“Successful sugar reduction starts with clean-tasting sweeteners, but it doesn’t stop there,” said Ihab Bishay, senior director — sweeteners, Ajinomoto North America Inc., Itasca, Ill. “You need to understand how to formulate with various sweeteners to maximize their ability to reduce sugar while at the same time keeping cost, taste, label and marketplace positioning top of mind.”

Added flavors and acidulants also must be considered. The ingredients may need adjustment to complement the taste profile of the sweetener system.

“Effective blending of ingredients can significantly improve the quality of sweetness, enhance the sweet/sour balance and deliver a more robust flavor, which are all critical sensory characteristics for a successful product launch,” said Andy Ohmes, global director of high-intensity sweeteners, Cargill, Minneapolis.

Suppliers are improving their portfolio of sugar-reduction technologies. Tools include refined sweeteners, masking technologies and sensory modulators.

“With the early Reb A stevia sweeteners, developers were focused on managing aftertastes, such as bitterness, metallic or licorice notes,” Mr. Ohmes said. “Given the huge leap forward in quality of sweetness, today’s next-generation stevia products give developers more versatility in their quest to create great-tasting, reduced-sugar beverages.”

Cargill offers stevia sweeteners and erythritol to deliver on this opportunity. With some applications, in the final stage of development, especially with large sugar reductions, it may be necessary to leverage natural flavors, such as sweetness enhancers or modulators. These types of flavors may enhance upfront sweetness or round out the sweetness profile.

Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore., offers sweetening blends designed specifically for beverages. Some next-generation systems address mouthfeel, too.

“Our stevia and erythritol blend can deliver 95% clean label sugar reduction in beverages,” said Thom King, chief executive officer at Steviva Ingredients. “We also have a monk fruit, stevia and erythritol blend made with our new purification technology that eliminates the majority of off-notes, creating a flavor profile and mouthfeel nearly identical to sucrose yet delivers a 95% clean label sugar reduction.”

Steviva’s double-purification technology mitigates the aftertaste of high-intensity sweeteners, removing the need for flavor masking. It is a two-stage resin column technology where a solution passes through the system and the resins attach to unwanted off-tasting compounds, eliminating them from the solution.

Resin column technology has been used for decades, such as in the manufacturing of fruit juices to remove bitter-tasting components. Its use in the natural sweetener market is new. It also may be used to decolorize monk fruit and stevia, thereby replacing bleaching processes.

NutraEx Food Inc., Burnaby, B.C., uses an encapsulation technology to turn stevia and monkfruit into drop-in replacements for sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

“We invented a proprietary modulator and encapsulation process,” said Harvey Martens, vice-president of business development. “The technology can assist with other off-tasting ingredients, too. It can remove the bitterness of some vitamins, and it can cancel out the fishy taste of minerals such as magnesium.”

Ingredion distributes a new Reb M stevia leaf sweetener from SweeGen Inc., Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

“It enables beverage developers to meet their sugar-reduction targets, without compromising product taste,” said Afrouz Naeini, senior marketing manager — sweetness and beverage at Ingredion. “This Reb M is a new and unique stevia leaf sweetener. What makes it unique is the fact that it is made from 95% pure Reb M produced from the leaf of the stevia plant. Reb M offers low to no bitter aftertaste and higher sweetness compared to Reb A, offering beverage developers the opportunity to reduce more sugar than before.”

PureCircle, Oak Brook, Ill., developed a tailored, proprietary technology to combine steviol glycosides to best meet the sweetening and flavor needs of each individual beverage. The technology embraces stevia’s upfront sweetness and assists with reducing the linger that often comes when formulating low-to-zero calorie solutions.

“By selecting the steviol glycosides that provide a very clean, sugar-like taste with a reduced linger, we have been able to formulate a stevia ingredient that works well for the challenges of beverage applications,” said John Martin, senior director of global technical innovation at PureCircle.

Another new offering from Steviva is a Madagascar vanilla-flavored stevia-infused blue agave nectar. It delivers an indulgent taste experience with one-fourth the calories, carbohydrates and sugars of regular agave or table sugar, according to the company.

“Its use is growing in popularity with flavored dairy but more so with cold-brewed coffee in the ready-to-drink beverage category,” Mr. King said. “All of our sweetening systems are available in 100-mesh, which makes them perfect for cold-processed beverages since they dissolve into formulas and disperse immediately.”

Advantame is a sweetener and flavor enhancer with application in many beverages, including flavored milks, carbonated soft drinks and meal replacement shakes.

“As a sweetener, Advantame can partially replace sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, sucralose and other more expensive sweeteners,” Mr. Bishay said. “Because of its clean taste, reduced-sugar products can match the taste profile of their full-sugar counterparts. When used as a flavor enhancer, it may improve the characters of cocoa powder, citrus flavors and fruit flavors, allowing formulators to use less expensive flavors. Furthermore, Advantame can also help mask the off tastes of added vitamin, amino acids and other functional ingredients.”

After sweetness and taste, mouthfeel and dispersion are key considerations when replacing sugar. It is because sugar is a solid that readily dissolves and contributes viscosity to beverage systems. When sugar is removed, it is often necessary to include ingredients that build back mouthfeel.

“Reduce the sugar in a formulation and consumers will find the mouthfeel of the beverage is lacking,” said Wen Shieh, technical leader for fruit, beverage and confections with Cargill Texturizing Solutions. “By incorporating hydrocolloids into low-caloric beverages, you can restore mouthfeel.”

Cargill developed hydrocolloid systems specifically to support the beverage industry. They are optimized to improve mouthfeel in reduced-calorie beverages.

Later this year, Steviva will launch two new sweetening systems that integrate a proprietary hydrocolloid blend to create a viscosity identical to sugar.

“We are constantly innovating,” Mr. King said. “We are also developing an allulose blend for beverages, as well as two new plant-protein based sweeteners: thaumatin and brazzein. They are 1,000 to 2,000 sweeter than sugar.”

Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., is focusing on smart snacking solutions that go beyond simple sugar replacement.

“We replace sugar and add health benefits at the same time,” said Jon Peters, president. “These benefits include adding prebiotics for digestive health and improving energy supply.”

The former is reference to isomaltulose, a disaccharide derived from sugar beet. It has a mild sweet taste that has a low effect on blood sugar levels.

“Being fully, yet slowly digestible, it provides full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained way, eliminating the undesired boost-and-crash effect generally associated with other sugars,” Mr. Peters said. “It can replace high-glycemic sugars in yogurt drinks or breakfast-on-the-go products, thereby providing the energy consumers are seeking to get them through their busy days.”

Isomaltulose is heat stable, making it suitable for ultra-high temperature pasteurized beverages. It is also highly stable against fermentation by most yeasts and bacteria; thus, it can be easily used in fermented and non-fermented dairy drinks.

Inulin and oligofructose are both prebiotic fibers derived from the chicory root. These ingredients have less than half the calories of sucrose along with a mild sweet taste. Both contribute solids. Thus they contribute body and creamy mouthfeel.

“Being highly soluble, they can be used to reduce sugars, including added sugars, as well as fat,” Mr. Peters said. “This reduces calories. At the same time they add prebiotic fiber to support the microbiome and thus improves digestive health.”

Kurt Villwock, director of product development, Fiberstar Inc., River Falls, Wis., said, “Citrus fiber is a powerful tool in a formulator’s toolbox when it comes to fixing the texture, and even flavor, of reduced-sugar beverages. While citrus fiber has a bland flavor with no sweetness, it has been used to moderate the temporal impact of high-intensity sweeteners, giving them a sweetness profile similar to traditional caloric sweeteners.”

In beverages, use levels are typically less than 1%. The citrus fiber may impact sweetness release, so some tweaking of the sweetener system may be necessary.

Maltodextrin and dextrose also can be used to enhance texture. For example, through a joint venture with Matsutani L.L.C., Archer Daniels Midland offers a soluble, functional dietary fiber that may be used to replace mouthfeel and viscosity in reduced-sugar beverages. A new liquid version recently became available.

Mr. Martens concluded, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Sugar reduction requires meticulous attention to details. The perfect balance is challenging to find and even more difficult to retain.”