I have a confession to make. I’m scared of fake sugar.
It’s because of all those days I spent drinking diet sodas filled with aspartame as a child. Eek.
Lucky for me, every ingredient company worth their sugar wants to help me out. As I walked the floor of the IFT Expo in Chicago recently, and zigzagged past all the food ingredient companies, it seemed every single one of them was trying to get me to eat something sweetened without sugar.
And all of them were promising me that their product was better, more amazing and had less after taste than fake sugar of days gone by.
It all started innocently enough at the Roquette booth.
They had a xylitol chew, and a sugar-free, chocolate-coated coffee bean. Xylitol, and sugar-free — where’s the fun in that?
The package of the xylitol chew was a little more fun than the handout, touting a “sugar-free chewy candy ice cream cooler.”
I like ice cream. Maybe it’s not so bad.
Thomas E. Parady, Roquette’s associate program coordinator for food and industrial applications, says the xylitol helps them achieve the cooling factor. And then he kept assuring me that I would barely notice that it was sugar-free, and that really I should just try it. Seriously, I just needed to try it.
So I did. And, well, it wasn’t horrible. In fact, I have say it was actually sweet and there wasn’t an aftertaste.
As for the coffee bean — which was made with Sweet Pearl, “the maltitol by Roquette” — I have to confess that the flavor profiled was completely dominated by the coffee bean. If you’re going to change chocolate’s ingredient’s, mix it with something dominant like coffee and nobody will be able to figure it out.
Tate and Lyle
After I had my morning burst of caffeine, I went to a tasting tour at the Tate and Lyle booth.
They started out with a seriously delicious truffle oil-flavored popcorn seasoned with Soda-lo salt microspheres, which reduced the sodium.
And then, bam, right after that, they were trying to get me to drink some fake sugar. They were serving up cute, little green Mojito Mocktails, sweetened with Splenda sucralose and decorated with candy limes.
Definitely something I never would have ever tried on my own, but I admit that I didn’t hate it. And with just 10 calories I might have even liked it. Hardly any aftertaste and I loved the lime. Obviously the only improvement would have been to add alcohol.
Afterwards, I got a sneak peak at a few items in a back room. It was all very food mafia-like, but in a way that made me feel special.
And that’s when the moment of truth came. They showed me a chocolate featuring a reduced-sugar, caramel truffle filling.
Claiming to reduce the sugar by 90 percent and the total calories by 40 percent and be “great tasting,” it was made with Splenda sucralose and Promitor soluble corn fiber.
Credit where credit’s due, I do not remember an aftertaste. What I do remember is that the texture wasn’t quite right for a truffle.
And therein lies one of the major problems with fake sugars — how do you substitute them in recipes?
I had a chance to talk about just that very thing with John Martin, from Pure Circle, a company that specialized in stevia.
I found the company after I walked over the booth to taste some sugar-free meatballs and marinara sauce. And I have to say, the savory folks don’t know how easy they have it. They had a marinara made with sugar out to compare against, and you really could not tell the difference.
Alas, chocolates aren’t so easy. And Martin would know. He came to Pure Circle after working for Farley and Sathers and then the Ferrara Candy Co. after the merger.
As Martin explains, stevia, for example, is about 400 times as sweet as sugar. The problem is that sugar usually adds bulk to a recipe, so something has to be added in to make up the difference.
That’s where a lot of companies are turning to fiber, which can work as a bulking agent. And, if companies are using stevia in an effort to use all-natural ingredients, the fiber can help them with that as well.
Martin’s company offers a Pure Circle University, where they train manufacturers on how to best use stevia. Roquette also offers Roquette University, and they have similar classes where they help companies navigate not only sugar-free options, but all sorts of health and wellness ingredients.
In the end, it seems every ingredient company knows that all any consumer really wants is to eat the food they love without feeling guilty or sacrificing taste. In other words, zero-calorie food that tastes like it’s got 33 grams of sugar in it.
As each year goes by, the ingredient companies get closer to making that a reality. Now they just have to teach consumers like myself that they’re actually achieving it.