The Sweetest feeling
Overcoming the flavour challenge in low sugar beverages
Douglas Rash, VP – Global Sales, Treatt
Driven by concerns about rising obesity levels, more and more consumers are now seeking low calorie, better-for-you beverages to improve their overall health and wellness. In fact, the global retail value of health and wellness beverages reached US$274 billion in 2011, equating to 44 per cent of retail value sales of non-alcoholic beverages. The sector is also set to outperform the wider soft and hot drinks industry over 2012-2016.1
Eager to tap into this buoyant market, drinks manufacturers across the globe are looking for innovative solutions to enable them to produce healthier beverages that satisfy these consumer demands. As a growing number of Western countries have either implemented a so-called ‘fat tax’ on high calorie, sugary drinks, or are thinking about it, the time is right to assess reformulation possibilities and carve a significant share in a dynamic industry.
However, creating a good-tasting, low sugar beverage requires much more than a straightforward removal of the sugar. Careful selection of alternative ingredients or sweeteners and an understanding of how they interact with other components in the mix is vital to produce a better-for-you soft drink which still delivers the sweet flavour profile consumers crave.
The following article takes a look at some of the flavour ingredient options currently available for low sugar soft drinks and the benefits they offer to manufacturers in application.
Sugar substitution with Stevia
Sourcing effective alternative beverage sweeteners can be a challenge. Many can impart an unpleasant, metallic flavour when incorporated into the drink, while others may actually be unhealthier than sugar.
A sugar substitute that has been shown to offer proven benefits is Stevia. This substitute uses an extract made from the leaves of the stevia plant, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which is related to the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and is native to the tropical and subtropical regions from western North America and South America.
The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. The Stevia extract contains at least 11 stevia glycosides which have varying degrees of sweetness. A typical relative composition is as follows:
|Glycoside||Sweetness(glucose = 1)||Typical relative % in crude extract|
|Rebaudioside F||Not determined||<1|
Table 1: Steviol glycosides (Kinghorn et al., Comprehensive Natural Products II, 2010, 269-315
(* predominant components in most commercial purified extracts)
Many clinical studies have been conducted to assess Stevia and its relative health benefits. Positive outcomes were found for the ingredient in relation to blood sugar reduction and blood pressure lowering. It is also 100 per cent natural and carbohydrate and calorie free. In September 2012, the FDA gave a ‘no objection’ approval for the use of the highly refined Stevia preparations listed in table 1 (as sweeteners) in food products. Several Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) notices were also issued to many Stevia producing companies. However, the FDA said that these products are not Stevia but a highly purified product such as Rebaudioside A (a component derived from the Stevia plant).
Despite its popularity as a sweetener and sugar substitute, Stevia is not without its problems when used in application. For example, its offers a delayed sweetness response when compared to sucrose and this sweetness can linger long after the product has been consumed. The ingredient can also leave an unappealing bitter, liquorice-like aftertaste and impart a thin mouthfeel in foods and drinks. Its sweetness also appears to top out at 200 ppm, which is equivalent to 6-8o Brix.
A sweet Treatt
To meet these flavour challenges, Treatt has developed its range of TreattSweet™ 100 per cent natural flavour ingredients. These blended natural flavour essences enable manufacturers to improve the sweet taste profile in a variety of flavour compositions and applications. TreattSweet has been designed to work in combination with high intensity sweeteners like Stevia where it smoothes out the sweetness profile and undesirable lingering flavour characteristics often associated with these ingredients. They can be labelled simply as natural flavours on end products.
The TreattSweet portfolio currently comprises three products: TreattSweet 9754, TreattSweet Extra 9856 and TreattSweet Sparkling 9857. Following successful market reception to TreattSweet 9754, TreattSweet Extra 9856 was also added to the product line for use in applications where a lower aromatic impact is preferred.
TreattSweet Sparkling resolves the issues associated with carbonation, acidulants and sugar in low-calorie beverages, which can have a significant impact on flavour perception and sweetness.
TreattSweet in action
Treatt has conducted extensive sensory evaluations of its TreattSweet products in still drinks as well as in carbonated beverages. These evaluations included the use of TreattSweet in zero calorie beverages sweetened with Rebaudioside A, as well as in reduced brix beverages in which HFCS or sugar are used in conjunction with Rebaudioside A.
The results of each tasting trial showed that the TreattSweet products delivered accelerated sweet impact, reduced back end bitterness and a slightly improved sweetness. The final formula also demonstrated a smoothing effect that diminished the peak sweetness and softened the back end impression while also offering an enhanced mouthfeel. There was also an absence of a dominant flavour type.
Improving beverage flavour, while providing the required healthy attributes, is key to product success. Consumers like the natural, sweet taste of real sugar but prefer this to be delivered without the high calories, or indeed the addition of artificial flavours.
Treatt’s Treattarome® From The Named Food distillates offer an effective alternative to such artificial flavours. Created through a range of specialist technologies, including a short duration/low temperature distillation process to maximise flavour entrapment and ensure the character of the distillate is a reflection of the original, fresh food.
Treattarome products impart a natural ‘zing’, modifying top notes and giving a high impact at low dosage levels. All products in the range are 100% natural, FTNF essences offering users a clean label declaration on the end-product. White-water and water soluble, these products are well suited for beverage applications.
Treatt’s Treattarome portfolio includes a selection of sugar and honey varieties which can increase the perception of sweetness in a variety of beverage applications. Wholly distilled from cane sugar Saccharum officinarum, the sugar range comprises Sugar Treattarome 9805 which imparts a natural, sweet flavour; Sugar Treattarome 9806 for demerara sugar, caramel, butter and malt notes, and Sugar Treattarome 9807 to add a slight brown sugar, smoky and creamy flavour impression. These products have proven themselves to be effective when used in conjunction with Stevia in in low calorie and non-caloric beverages.
A taste of honey
The Honey Treattarome products – Honey Treattarome 9801, Honey Treattarome 9802 and Honey Treattarome 9804 – deliver a sweet, honey flavour to beverage systems without adding sugar or calories. Unlike highly viscous honey, these distillates are water-based so are easily incorporated into beverage systems in the bottling plant. In addition, they do not brown over time or physically interact with other ingredients in the formulation – an important consideration when looking to convert existing recipes into healthier options.
Collected from a blend of honeys such as orange blossom and clover, Honey Treattarome 9801 gives a powerful sugar-free, sweet honey character. Honey Treattarome 98-2 on the other hand offers a mild flavour profile and dark, smoky back-end notes while Honey Treattarome 9804 brings a light floral presence and delicate honey top note to flavour compositions. All these products can be used in a variety of applications such as soft beverages, including diet drinks, flavoured waters and juices.
As consumers look to take a more proactive role in maintaining their health and wellbeing, demand for low calorie, better-for-you soft drinks looks set to soar. Thanks to ingredient innovations from companies like Treatt, beverage manufacturers now have the tools to successfully enter this dynamic market and develop the good-tasting, low calorie drinks consumers want.
 Functionality, Naturalness and Stevia Key to Developing Beverages to Fit Today’s Trends, Euromonitor International, 2013