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Randomness may be key to reduced sugar products

By Stephen Daniells , 21-May-2010
Last updated the 21-May-2010 at 13:49 GMT

Uneven distribution of sugar in a food may allow formulators to reduce the sugar content of foods without detrimentally affecting the sweetness of the finished product, Dutch researchers report.

According to results published in Food Quality and Preference, the ‘inhomogeneous distribution’ of sugar allowed sugar levels to be reduced by 20 per cent without reducing sweetness.

The findings build on earlier science from Top Institute Food and Nutrition (TIFN) into salt reduction using what they called smart salt distribution. The technique allows for the reduction of salt without adding sodium substitutes, or taste or aroma additives.

Speaking to FoodNavigator.com in November 2009, Professor Rob Hamer, TIFN’s scientific director explained that the smart salt distribution technology works by blending a high salt fraction with a low salt fraction. This creates different layers with different salt content.

“It has to do with the ability of people to measure difference rather than absolute levels,” he explained. “By varying layer thickness we could achieve the sensation of 2 per cent bread, for example, while the actual salt level is 1.5 per cent,” he said.

The patented technology is the result of new insights into how consumers perceive the salt taste, said Prof Hamer.

From salt to sugar

The new study extends the smart distribution technique for sugar. Scientists from TIFN in collaboration with Wageningen University and NIZO Food Research, report that by distributing sugar in layered gels they could significantly decrease the sugar content without affecting sweetness.

Furthermore, data showed that the position of the sucrose-containing layers did not affect the perceived sweetness of the finished product.

“The use of inhomogeneous spatial distribution of tastants is a promising approach to reduce the content of sugars and salt,” wrote the researchers.

“It has the potential of being applied in the development of healthier products without compromising sensory performance,” they concluded.

The issue of health is no longer a marginal topic for the food industry but wholly mainstream, and it finds confectioners, biscuit and cake makers seeking to juxtapose today's consumer desire for indulgence with their desire for foods with a healthy profile.

According to a recent study from the US, only 5 per cent of American children between 6 and 11 were overweight before 1980, but 25 years later this number had risen to 19 per cent. Similar increases have been reported in Europe, with the International Association for the Study of Obesity estimating in 2006 that the number of obese school age children in Europe increased by almost 50 per cents since the late 1990s.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2010.04.010
“Enhancement of sweetness intensity in gels by inhomogeneous distribution of sucrose”
Authors: A.C. Mosca, F. van de Velde, J.H.F. Bult, M.A.J.S. van Boekel, M. Stieger

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