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Stevia Wonder


The recent approval of zero-calorie sweetener stevia by the European Union is accelerating the entry of healthy products into the market, says Wouter Moormann.

A report by Mintel in 2011 found that food and beverage manufacturers are starting to reformulate their products to meet the growing market demand for nutrition. Consumers also seemed concerned about sugars and sweeteners in what they eat and drink, suggesting that functionality might be waning in favor of products without additives and are “unprocessed and unadulterated”.
With the recent approval of the zero-calorie sweetener stevia by the European Union (EU), consumers can expect to see new products sweetened with the herb on the retail shelves in Europe such as yogurts, cereals, beverages, soft drinks, confectionery, chocolate and table top sweeteners. Commonly used as a sweetener in food and beverages throughout the Americas and Asia, steviol glycosides are sweetening compounds extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, which are considered as natural and free of calories.

Regulatory bodies such as the FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and the European Food Safety Authority agree that the sweetening compound is safe for consumption and a suitable sweetening option for diabetics.
Stevia-based sweeteners have already been approved for use in the US, Japan, China and Australia. In France, stevia sweeteners with a high purity of steviol glycoside Reb A have been allowed for sale since September 2009. Analysts say the European market for sweeteners is valued at $500 million and its market for stevia-based sweeteners is expected to reach an additional $100 million this year.

Health factor
Rising health concerns, consumers’ preference for all-natural ingredients and the growing regulatory approval of stevia are driving the rapid growth of the herb in the industry. Market research group Zenith International forecasts worldwide sales of the ingredient to more than triple in volume by 2014, which translates to 11,000 metric tons and $825 million.
Asia Pacific, where the ingredient has been used as a sweetener in some regions for decades, has the largest market share at 35.7%, followed by North America (30%) and South America (24.3%). The market share in Europe was 8.6%, which is expected to grow quickly as more companies enter the global arena to supply stevia to the industry.

While consumers demand foods that are natural, palatable and healthy, manufacturers face technical and formulation challenges, particularly in overcoming off-notes and aftertaste associated with stevia-derived\ sweeteners. While the taste of stevia may work with certain fruity flavors in beverages, those in other products may require changes in order to be acceptable to consumers.
Flavor and ingredient companies are therefore helping manufacturers to optimize flavor and taste profile with natural solutions in a broad range of applications, as well as creating naturally-made products that are free of chemical processing.

Natural source
The increasing market popularity of stevia can be attributed to the changing demographics and consumption patterns, as well as the sophisticated consumer market that is favoring naturally-derived foods that boost health – consumers today are willing to pay more for wellness-advocating products.
The industry has therefore offered a range of natural and synthetic sweeteners, which, when combined with enhancers and formulated into foods and beverages, can mimic the properties of sugar. The current challenge for food technologists is to reduce the calories in sweeteners while maintaining the taste and flavor profile of sugar
Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar in its natural state. It gets sweeter when processed. The source of its sweetness is largely due to its complex stevioside molecule. Another compound, called rebaudioside, which is present in stevia, also contributes to its sweetness profile.
Stevia is a natural, non-caloric; sweet-tasting plant commonly used for its pleasant taste. The herb offers health promoting qualities such as regulating blood sugar, preventing hypertension, treating skin disorders and preventing tooth decay. Other studies show that it is also a natural antibacterial and antiviral agent.
Natural low- and no-calorie alternative sweeteners have been introduced to the market over the past couple of years. They have been well received by consumers due to the ever-growing concerns over obesity, cancer and diabetes. Being calorie and carbohydrate free, stevia is being positioned as a viable replacement for artificial
sweeteners and refined sugar.

Tapping the confectionery market
Low-calorie beverages form the fastest-growing segment in the food and beverage market, as they offer a more convenient diet and meal replacement option than food. On the other hand, stevia is used in products such as gummies, fruits, functional beverages, juices, yogurts and sauces, as well as toiletries and pharmaceutical goods.
However, the use of stevia in the confectionery sector remains small, especially products for children, who are the major consumers of this segment. A growing awareness and concern among parents about the impact of eating too many sweets on their children’s health are causing confectionery manufacturers to reconsider the role confectionery plays on preventing dental caries, as sugar-free and tooth-friendly products are mainly limited to chewing gum, mints and herb drops.
Research has showed that consumers are looking for healthier alternatives to sugar-coated chocolate sweets and they are willing to pay premium for toothfriendly variants if these alternatives are available in the market.

Sugar-free, tooth friendly offerings
While toothfriendly products do not necessary mean that they are free from sugar, carbohydrate Palatinose (isomaltulose) is however an ingredient to have toothfriendly credentials. Derived from beet sugar, the ingredient is a white crystalline powder that has similar energy and sweetness as sugar. While it cannot be claimed as sugar-free, being fully digestible, Palatinose enables the production of tooth-friendly chocolate, chewable sweet and gums without negative side effects on digestibility.
The approval of stevia in the EU could signal a breakthrough for sugar-free and toothfriendly confectionery as manufacturers break the artificial association with such sweeteners. Parents could view stevia as a healthier alternative to certain high-intensity sweeteners for their children.
While several companies are able to create sugar-free variants of most confectionery products, they recognize that formulations can become more difficult to create for soft products. In addition, manufacturers need to determine the suitable sweeteners or bulking agents for use, which meet consumers’ needs and gain their acceptance.



No more sticky candies
With the global consolidation of the confectionery industry and complex supply chain, products are required to maintain their quality for a longer period of time. However, a long supply chain can result in unwanted stickiness in candies, which is due to sugar inversion, where sucrose turns into glucose and fructose.
Confectionery manufacturers can use acid sanding to overcome this issue. This process coats sugar confectionery with a blend of sugar and acid powders, which would react with exterior influences once the packaging is opened.
The choice of acid powder is critical to the success of an acid sanded product. Purac’s powder for example consists of malic acid, which is coated with sodium hydrogen malate. The powder provides stability, low hygroscopicity and clean, taste profile.
Nominated in the category "Confectionery Innovation of the Year" at the recent Food Ingredients Europe Excellence Awards 2011, this powder coats candies with a more stable acid, yet having a fresh, fast sourness release.

Masking solutions
While certain intensive sweeteners have bitter, metallic, or a licoricelike cooling aftertaste, sweeteners with a lingering sweet taste can accentuate off-notes of other ingredients in candies, which is unnoticeable in the product, but consumers would typically detect an “artificial aftertaste”. Confectionery manufacturers can use Purac’s ultra purified natural L-Lactic acid solution to mask disagreeable aftertaste imparted by intensive sweeteners. The ingredient enhances desirable characteristics in hard-boiled candies such as fruitiness and sweet fl avors. By regulating the pH levels, the product also strikes a balance between taste, health and function.

Sweet future
The stevia landscape is fast changing as new product launches are subject to regulatory and consumer scrutiny. As a zero calorie, natural, non-carcinogenic intensity sweetener, stevia can potentially gain market share from alternative sweeteners, as well as replace starch syrups when blended with sugar or other bulking agents.
Developing innovative, great-tasting products is the first step to expanding the reach of such natural sweeteners in growth markets. And using stevia as an alternative all-natural sweetener, manufacturers will not only save money but offer health benefits to consumers for a sweet future.

Article by Asia Food Journal

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