While the latest blends of steviol glycosides do not have the same bitter, licorice and lingering off-notes associated with some earlier stevia extracts on the market, some still contain “noticeable off-tastes compared to sugar”, says flavors giant Givaudan.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as part of our October special edition on natural sweeteners, Janine van Kampen, global product manager Taste Sweet at flavors giant Givaudan, said: “Our sensory work has shown that the complexity of off-notes associated with stevia extracts is not limited to bitter.
“Stevia also brings licorice-like off-notes and the lingering sweetness that is characteristic for high intensity sweeteners. Effective masking agents not only reduce the bitterness, but also mask other off-notes and improve the temporal sweetness profile.”
New stevia blends combine different steviol glycoside components to modify off-notes
She added: “Most of the new stevia blends combine different steviol glycoside components to modify these bitter, licorice and lingering off-notes.
“Although many of these do show improved quality compared to the first Rebaudioside A extracts, there are still noticeable off-tastes compared to sugar, depending on the blend.
“Through our taste research program, we have discovered and commercialized a range of masking tools to improve all these different off-notes and make products taste closer to sugar.”
Does orange work well with stevia?
And what about flavor interactions? Does stevia work better with some flavors more than others?
“Working in multi-disciplinary teams of scientists, flavorists, application technologists and sensory experts, we’ve realized there is significant interaction between steviol glycosides and flavors”, said van Kampen.
“Many of our customers believe that some flavor types, for example orange, do not work well with stevia.
“However, we found that, although some flavors do not seem compatible with stevia, we can rebalance the formulation to make any type of flavor taste better with stevia, including orange.”
Monk fruit has a strong fermented, fruity character
But what about monk fruit (luo han guo)? Is this any easier to work with, as some suppliers claim?
Yes and no, said van Kampen.
“We have found that luo han guo gives a nice round sweetness and not the same level of bitterness as stevia. However it gives a strong fermented, fruity character that will be perceived as an off-taste in many applications. Characterizing flavors can help balance these notes.
“The best tasting formulations would be a careful balance of luo han guo with other sweeteners, masking agents and flavor.
“Using it in combination with other ingredients can also off-set the higher cost-in-use typically associated with luo han guo.”
Next generation of high intensity natural sweeteners?
Finally, what does she think about other natural high-intensity natural sweeteners such as monatin, osladin, brazzein, thaumatin and monellin?
“Based on our experience with natural high intensity sweeteners we found them to be very sweet, but the temporal sweetness is very different compared to sugar”, said van Kampen.
Prinova: Some customers still have concerns about whether high intensity sweeteners will work in certain applications
Brent Laffey, global product manager at Prinova USA, which supplies stevia products from PureCircle, said new blends of steviol glycosides have opened up more opportunities for customers to use stevia in a wider range of applications.
However, applications expertise is critical, he said.
"Almost all people are already sold on the concept of natural high intensity sweeteners like stevia, but Prinova has found many have lost confidence in high intensity sweeteners' functionality in certain applications.
"Prinova offers customers the security that they’re working with the right partner on the application side, which then increases drastically the amount of opportunities to benefit products, anywhere from zero calorie to silent reduction of sugar or even 50%, in even more applications."
Asked about whether stevia has met market expectations, he said: "We anticipate it [the market for stevia] will only continue to grow, especially with the recent EU approvals. However, from the beginning the expectations were much too high for immediate impact.
"Looking over the course of stevia’s first four years since approval, it has progressed as much as any high intensity sweetener outside aspartame."
Cargill: Monatin is one of the tools in our toolbox...
Breah Ostendorf, global commercial manager, Truvia ingredient business, Cargill, said stevia has hit the mass market, adding: "The market for natural, reduced calorie sweetness is no longer niche...
"Today, in the US, products with stevia are found in over 47% of households, and half of those products are made with Truvia stevia leaf extract (Nielsen Homescan Panel, Total US – All Outlets, 52 weeks to 8.4.2012)."
According to Innova, global launches of stevia-sweetened products from January through August 2012 are also up 18% over the same period last year, he observed.
Ostendorf remains tight-lipped: "We are committed to helping our customers deliver great tasting, natural, zero and low calorie products to the market. Monatin is one of the tools that may help our customers to do this in the future.
"Cargill has a robust ingredient innovation program, and we are continuously looking at opportunities for innovative new products. We do not publicly share information about our marketing or commercial plans."