Michael Britten-Kelly, innovation manager at Treatt, explained that the product development was in response to a personal and more general consumer perception of the flavour difference in tea when stevia-derived sweeteners were used instead of regular sugar.
“When used in tea applications, the back-end bitterness of sweeteners such as Rebaudioside A (a component derived from the stevia plant) can accentuate tea's natural astringency,” said the company.
To counter this Britten-Kelly and his team have created a blend that they say softens these “harsh undertones” and allows more subtle flavours to come through when combined with stevia.
Treatt has announced three new additions to its portfolio of tea products including Green Tea TrueTaste Natural 200 - a 200-fold iced tea concentrate made using natural tea ingredients.
These new products and this affiliation with the stevia trend reflects Treatt’s brand identity of clean labelling and natural ingredients, Britten-Kelly told FoodNavigator. It could also potentially give manufacturers an opportunity to respond to an increasing consumer demand for “natural”, stevia-sweetened products that do not compromise on taste.
According to Euromonitor, growth rates for stevia use are ten times higher than other high intensity sweeteners, even though overall use remains relatively low.
Influx of stevia innovation
The EU approved stevia glycosides back in November 2011, and since then there has been an influx of innovation surrounding the use of the ingredient.
Earlier this year, The Coca-Cola Company launched a reformulation of its regular Sprite recipe for the UK market to include stevia which reduced the calorie count by 30%.
Yet food and beverage manufactures within the EU - unlike those in the US - are unable to call the ingredient natural on product packaging.
How natural is natural?
Stevia goes through a complex process of extraction, purification and recrystallization before it reaches sweetener form. This has led some EU Member States to argue that these extracts cannot be labelled as natural.
Britten-Kelly told FoodNavigator that this was an interesting dispute but ultimately he did not think that stevia was different from other naturally derived sweeteners.
“Obviously the stevia plant itself is natural but it goes through a lot of processes to get to the finished product that would be the sweetener. But that’s the same within the processing of sugar canes. So I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between them in this respect.”
Continuing this research, the Treatt team plans to look next into reformulating coffee to be suitable for combination with stevia. This, Britten-Kelly said, is expected to be a bigger challenge since coffee is far more bitter. They plan to have this product ready for launch at next year’s Institute of Food Technologists event.