KANSAS CITY — Stevia extracts have gained in importance in the sugar reduction category for more than a decade. Allulose, a “rare sugar,” has become a rising star over the past year or so. Yet the two sweeteners generally do not compete against each other and instead work in tandem.

“(Allulose) is a remarkable complement to stevia sweeteners in food formulations,” said Jim Carr, director, global ingredient technology, sweeteners, Tate & Lyle, in a presentation at ShIFT20, an Institute of Food Technologists’ virtual event held in July. “Allulose allows stevia to reach higher sugar reduction levels, and it improves taste quality and can reduce overall sweetener costs.”

High-intensity sweeteners (HIS) like stevia tend to plateau in sweetness intensity and concentration, he added.

“Here, allulose can add sweetness and reduce the need for high stevia use levels,” Mr. Carr said.

London-based Tate & Lyle offers stevia under the Tasteva brand and allulose under the Dolcia Prima brand.

Stevia showed a 12% compound annual growth rate in new product launches from 2015 to 2019, said Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science for Mintel Group Ltd., in a ShIFT20 presentation. Among global food and drink product launches with non-artificial, low-calorie sweeteners, 87% contained stevia.

Ms. Mattucci said she expects the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to increase demand for sugar-reduction ingredients overall. A Mintel survey showed 37% of consumers said they would pay greater attention to health because of COVID-19.

“Sugar reduction is going to remain front and center,” she said. “Even before the pandemic, sugar intakes were a concern for consumers.”

Allulose advantages

Allulose is called a rare sugar because it exists in nature but in small quantities. The sweetener became a bigger player in sugar reduction in April 2019 when the US Food and Drug Administration said it would exercise enforcement discretion for the exclusion of allulose from the amount of total sugars and added sugars on the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label. The FDA cited data showing allulose is different from other sugars in that it is not metabolized by the human body in the same way as table sugar.

Allulose is a monosaccharide sugar that is naturally found in trace amounts in fruit such as figs and jackfruit, according to a white paper from Apura Ingredients, Chino, Calif. It is about 70% as sweet as sucrose. Since the human body does not metabolize it in the same way as sucrose and fructose, allulose contributes 10% of the calories of standard sugar in applications. The bulk and hygroscopicity of allulose is closer to that of table sugar, which helps in overcoming textural issues in formulations, according to Apura Ingredients.

Samyang Corp., which is based in South Korea and has a US office in New York, has studied allulose for a decade and used the company’s enzyme technology to commercialize it in South Korea in 2016. Samyang’s allulose has Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status in the United States.

When high-intensity sweeteners replace sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, they satisfy overall sweetness but fail to retain other properties such as body, mouthfeel, flavor, etc., said Byungsoo (Brian) Lee, general manager for Samyang Corp. in New York.

“All kinds of HIS can be used together with allulose (blended solutions may vary depending on the specific food category), while steviol glycosides is the most preferred because of its possibility to emphasize clean label,” he said.

Mr. Lee offered two examples of reducing added sugars in applications when combining stevia and allulose: a reduction of 40.7% in carbonated beverages and no added sugar in plant-based milk alternatives.

“Globally, the ketogenic diet has gained considerable prominence, with the rising demand for keto-friendly options at restaurants and eateries,” Mr. Lee said. “Since allulose is one of the well-known ketogenic sweeteners, allulose is being used to replace traditional sweeteners, which are high in calories.”

Allulose partially may replace Rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside, in beverages to provide a better flavor since Reb A adds a characteristic off-taste to beverages at higher concentrations, said Akshay Kumar Anugu, PhD, senior associate, applications, global sugar reduction for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. Allulose has been shown to significantly lower Rebaudioside M use levels and improve the sweetness temporal profile compared to standalone Reb M, he said. Stevia also may be paired with erythritol for similar advantages.

A sweetener system combining allulose, stevia and low mono- and disaccharides (DP1 and DP2) syrups has been shown to reduce sugar by 25% to 50% in ice cream and by 100% in fruit preparations, Dr. Anugu said. In baked foods, the sweetener combination may reduce sugar by 25% to 50% in baked foods and by 50% to 75% in bars.

Combining stevia and allulose allows a significant reduction in added sugars in various formulations,including a 40.7% lowering of sugar in carbonated beverages.

“Inulin, polydextrose and soluble corn fiber can also be used along with stevia and allulose to improve overall taste performance and achieve higher sugar reduction,” he said.

Apura Ingredients in its white paper pointed to the potential for allulose in baked foods. Removing sugar from baked foods reduces the Maillard reaction, which reduces much of the browning, crispiness and toasted character of baked and fried foods, according to Apura. Allulose browns more readily than sucrose and is an effective replacement for brown sugar in applications that require caramelization.

Erythritol remains another good teammate for stevia. High-intensity sweeteners like steviol glycosides have a slow onset of sweetness, a spike of sweetness and then a lingering aftertaste, said Alan Skradis, a technical services account manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill in a ShIFT20 webinar.

“Erythritol shifts that curve a little bit, provides some roundness and cuts off some tailing as well,” Mr. Skradis said.

Steviol glycoside advancements

Recent steviol glycoside innovation has focused on Reb M and Reb D, two steviol glycosides that more closely resemble the sweet taste of sugar.

SweeGen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., uses a bioconversion process in extracting Reb M and Reb D from stevia leaves. A global supplier, the company on Aug. 25 announced it had entered a joint venture with China Commercial Foreign Trade Group to distribute SweeGen’s Bestevia portfolio of sweeteners in China.

Fermentation is another way to obtain Reb M and Reb D. Cargill offers EverSweet steviol glycosides, which are created through the fermentation of specialty crafted yeast.

Amyris, Inc., Emeryville, Calif., produces Reb M by fermenting sugarcane. The practice allows Amyrise to produce Reb M sustainably, at scale and at a lower price than competitors, said Daya Fields, president at PureCane, a branded steviol glycoside sweetener that Amyris sells to consumers.

Amyris claims it uses less land and natural resources compared to other natural sweetener products. Company estimates also show Amyris uses less water based on competitors’ publicly available information.

“Technically, Reb M is a steviol glycoside, so actually our Reb M is exactly the same as the one that exists in nature,” Ms. Fields said. “We just make it using sugarcane instead of stevia plants.”

This June, Amyris and St. Louis-based AB Mauri North America, a business of AB Mauri, signed a multi-year agreement for AB Mauri’s sale and purchase of Amyris’ Purecane RebM zero-calorie sweetener for baking applications. The partnership will allow AB Mauri’s customers to produce reduced-sugar baked foods with no loss of flavor, texture or product appeal.

“The partnership is expected to transform the industrial baking sector in the US, Mexico and Canada markets by enabling AB Mauri’s customers to produce reduced sugar baked goods with no loss of flavor, texture or product appeal,” Ms. Fields said. “We have already established other ingredient partnerships with international food and beverage companies, in addition to flavor houses. There is an enormous consumer demand for sugar reduction in people’s diets, and the demand is only growing. Amyris is absolutely looking to expand its partnerships to meet the need.”