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Special edition: Sweeteners

Natural sweetener from oats a 'great fit' for ice cream, candy, bars, cereals; oat protein byproduct shows promise

1 commentBy Maggie Hennessy , 16-Sep-2013
Last updated the 16-Sep-2013 at 19:17 GMT

About a year on from OatSweet’s initial push into the U.S. sweetener marketplace, Oat Tech CEO and founder, Dr. Paul Whalen, caught up with FoodNavigator-USA on the growth areas—both expected and unforeseen—for this natural, oat-based sweetener.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in bars and breakfast cereals and we have a small company moving very quickly on an oat milk product,” Dr. Whalen said. “But we also have a lot of larger companies that are looking for replacements for mass market sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, which is something we believe we can solve.”

OatSweet is produced using a patented process developed by Dr. Whalen to form the sugar in situ, or in place, without separating the oat components. As a result, it contains many of the nutritional attributes of oats (without the characteristic graininess) in addition to maltose and glucose for sweetness.

The product is currently available in syrup form, is and being produced in the “hundreds of thousands of pounds per week” range. “We’ve been busy,” Dr. Whalen added. The primary products are 42DE (42% as sweet as dextrose) and 60DE (60% as sweet as dextrose).

The syrup is GMO-free and vegan, and is a one-to-one replacement for both rice and corn syrup, hence the appeal among manufacturers looking to phase out HFCS.

“A lot of the manufacturers who’ve had to get rid of HFCS went back to sucrose,” Dr. Whalen said. “But sucrose crystallizes in a bar. So they always have to add sugar alcohol or other compounds to keep it soft. Ours isn’t going to do that. And because there’s some soluble fiber in there, you get a smoother texture as well.”

This is similarly so why OatSweet is such a good fit for bars. “The bars category is a really good fit for our product, partly because it is excellent for keeping chewy bars chewy longer—plus, it’s got a wonderful flavor.”

OatSweet has clean flavor profile, with a caramel-like sweetness that contains notes of honey, though the sweetness level can be adjusted depending on how it’s being used. It also contains a small amount of fiber and protein, for those seeking functional sweetener claims.

Moreover, Oat Tech is on track to achieving pricing for OatSweet that’s in line with sucrose and alternative sweeteners like rice syrup, which will make it “extremely competitive,” Dr. Whalen added.

Surprise successes

OatSweet’s inherent ability to increase overrun (incorporation of air) makes it a great fit for ice cream; yet those same whipping attributes also made it the unexpected candidate for a candy manufacturer seeking a “clean” alternative for the nougat center of a candy bar.

It also has found success as a glaze or coating because it won’t clump up, which was something that even surprised Dr. Whalen. “We coated some oat grains for a trade show, and I said to the product developer, ‘Aren’t you worried these will become a giant ball by the end of the day?’ But it didn’t. A lot of glazed syrup formulas require the addition of oil or a glucose/sucrose balance. But the oil in oats is naturally emulsifying, so we don’t have to do that.”

An unintended byproduct of OatSweet’s success has been—quite literally—growing interest in an OatSweet byproduct, a 50% oat protein with noteworthy potential in the protein supplement market, according to Dr. Whalen.

“We know it’s one of a kind, because oats have a really good amino acid balance. We only have certain quantities, so we’re trying to evaluate how much to make and what the market is, because frankly, we think it’s going to sell up there with dairy proteins,” he said.

Powder form an ‘ongoing project’

Oat Tech continues to field interest in OatSweet for bakery options. While some manufacturers are using the syrup form, the firm often gets requests for a powder form of the product, which is easier to incorporate in high-volume bakery formulas.

“We’ve had some inquiries about the powder, which is an ongoing project. But right now we are sticking with our mainline 42 and 60 products,” Dr. Whalen said. “We have to stay focused; we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin at this stage. I’m really satisfied with what we have, and we’re meeting all our projections."

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