The steady climb in worldwide obesity rates is often dually attributed to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the energy content of modern diets, with a growing body of research linking increased sugar consumption with higher body weight.
While consumers are increasingly interested in products with low- or reduced-sugar claims, there has also been a rise in the demand for more ‘natural’ sweetener alternatives, leading to the commercial introduction of sweeteners derived from stevia, monk fruit, and other plant sources.
Megan Waldrop and Carolyn Ross from WSU’s School of Food Science now report that using an electronic tongue could make for cost- and time-effective ways of finding ‘naturally based’ alternatives to sugar, with a test with granola bars revealing the optimal combination to be 89.9% coconut sugar, 6.1% agave, and 4% stevia.
Commenting on the practical application of their research Waldrop and Ross said that their study demonstrates how blending sweeteners can produce more accepted flavor profiles. In addition, the approach also allows for “more flexibility in sweetener choice for product developers based on production and quality constraints”.
“The results also indicate the potential of coconut sugar to be used in commercial food and beverage products,” they said.
The results of their study are published in the IFT’s Journal of Food Science.
The study is said to be the first to use the electronic tongue to profile sweetener blends, said Waldrop and Ross, having previously been used to evaluate food and beverage products. The technology was developed to copy human taste response in liquids.
“The electronic tongue was shown to have the capacity to predict sweetener differences, an important ability when determining sweetener substitutes in food and beverage products,” they said.
In order to validate the efficacy of the electronic tongue, the data was compared with responses from a trained panel and consumers. Different combinations of coconut sugar, stevia, and agave were used and the results from the different tests correlated.
As could be expected by using different sweetener combinations, the final gluten-free granola bar formulations were found to give significantly different results. However, the consumers consistently noted their preference for mixtures containing mostly coconut sugar.
The data indicated that baking led to easier detection of differences between the sweeteners, and resulted in stevia being the least accepted and coconut sugar the most accepted. The optimal combination was determined to be a granola bar formulation using 89.9% coconut sugar, 6.1% agave, and 4% stevia.
“These results indicate that a mixture design can be a reliable way to develop new sweetener blends for product development,” they concluded.
Source: Journal of Food Science
September 2014, Volume 79, Number 9, S1782-94. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12575
“Sweetener blend optimization by using mixture design methodology and the electronic tongue”
Authors: M.E. Waldrop, C.F. Ross