Making life taste better

Sweeteners

Sweeteners

If it weren’t for artificial intense sweeteners, the only way to satisfy a sweet tooth would be with natural sugars such as sucrose, fructose and maltose, which are full of calories and contribute to tooth decay.

The modern desire to eat sweet foods that don’t make you fat has led to the development of a variety of low calorie intense sweeteners that are much sweeter than sucrose, and only need to be used in tiny amounts to satisfy the taste buds. They aren’t a modern invention – the first, saccharin, was first produced back in 1878.

If it weren’t for artificial intense sweeteners, the only way to satisfy a sweet tooth would be with natural sugars such as sucrose, fructose and maltose, which are full of calories and contribute to tooth decay.

Most food products use blends of sweeteners. Regulations limit the maximum use levels for If it weren’t for artificial intense sweeteners, the only way to satisfy a sweet tooth would be with natural sugars such as sucrose, fructose and maltose, which are full of calories and contribute to tooth decay.individual high-intensity sweeteners, and each has its own unique taste profile, such as metallic, bitter, lingering or delayed onset. Synergistic effects also mean that the mixture can often give an even more intense sweetness than the individual components alone.

However, these ingredients can only replace the sweetness of sugar, and not its bulk, so in products like cakes and jams, something else is needed if sugar is going to be replaced. This is where bulk sweeteners come in. These are derivatives of sugars, and while they are not as sweet as sucrose, they have fewer calories as the body metabolises them differently. They do not raise glucose levels in the blood, and so can be consumed by diabetics. However, many can have a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities.

Low-calorie and diabetic foods frequently contain a combination of both intense and bulk sweeteners, with the former producing the sweetness and the latter the texture that consumers expect.

Bulk sweeteners

Erythritol (E968) is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, which is made commercially by the fermentation of glucose, and was only approved for food use in Europe in 2006. It is about two-thirds as sweet as sucrose, but has almost no calories. As it is absorbed before it reaches the colon, it does not have the laxative effects of some other bulk sweeteners – instead, it is excreted unchanged in the urine. It is also tooth-friendly as it does not contribute to tooth decay

Isomalt (E954) is a sugar alcohol with similar physical properties to sucrose, but it is tooth-friendly and has half the calories. It is becoming increasingly popular in confectionery products such as hard candies, but like many bulk sweeteners it can have a laxative effect.

Lactitol (E966) is a bulk sweetener that is about 40% as sweet as sucrose. It is common in bakery products because of its heat stability, and it is also found in confectionery, chocolate and ice cream.

Maltitol (E965) has about three-quarters of the sweetness of sugar, but about half of its calories, and it does not promote tooth decay. However, it can have a laxative effect. It is particularly common in confectionery products like hard candies, chewing gum and ice cream.

Sorbitol (E420) is the oldest of the bulk sweeteners. It is commonly found in diet food and drink products, as well as confectionery such as mints and sugar-free gum. It is found in rowan berries, but as a food ingredient it is made by chemically modifying glucose.

Xylitol (E967) is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol was first commercially extracted from birch trees. It has about two-thirds of the calories of sugar, and does not cause tooth decay. It is found in a wide range of confectionery products, but sometimes has a laxative effect.

Intense sweeteners

Acesulfame K (E950) is about 200 times more sweet than sucrose. Invented in Germany in 1967, it leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste in the mouth, which means it is rarely used alone as a sweetener. Unlike some other intense sweeteners, it is heat-stable during cooking. Common uses include bakery products, and soft drinks, where it is usually blended with other sweeteners, and as a sweetener for hot beverages.

Aspartame (E951) is a sweetener that was invented in the US in 1965, and contains two amino acids joined together by a chemical bond. It is about 200 times sweeter than sucrose, but as it breaks down on heating it is not suitable for baking applications, although it can be added to hot foods before serving, such as hot drinks, stewed fruit or porridge. It is commonly found in soft drinks and confectionery products. People with the rare condition phenylketonuria cannot metabolise one of its constituent amino acids, phenylalanine, and so must try to avoid it. This is why product labels have to state ‘contains a source of phenylalanine’ if aspartame is an ingredient.

Cyclamate (E952) is about 30 times more sweet than sugar, and it is usually used in combination with other sweeteners.

Saccharin (E954) has been used as an intense sweetener for more than a century, and is 300-400 times sweeter than sugar. It is commonly used in carbonated drinks in combination with aspartame. There have been concerns that it might cause cancer over the years, but these health scares have been dismissed.

Sucralose (E955) is the newest of the intense sweeteners and is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is made by replacing three of the alcohol groups in sucrose with chlorine atoms, which dramatically increases its sweetness. It is heat-stable so can be used in bakery products. It is becoming increasingly popular in products from soft drinks to confectionery to hot beverages.

Use of food additives ‘safer and more transparent’ thanks to new legislation.

Safer and more transparent use.

The use of additives in food will soon become even safer and more transparent thanks to legislation adopted by the European Commission.

“This represents a landmark in our efforts to strengthen food safety in the EU,” says Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli (pictured). “The adoption of two regulations on additives will further empower citizens and industry alike as they will make it easier for everyone concerned to know exactly what additives are allowed in foodstuffs.”

The two regulations establish two new lists. The first concerns additives in food and will come into force in June 2013. This list will allow consumers to easily identify which additives are authorised in a particular foodstuff. The second list relates to additives in food ingredients, and will apply 20 days after its publication in the EU’s Official Journal.

Transparency is one major benefit of the new legislation as the new list makes it obvious that in some food categories the authorised additives are very limited or not allowed at all. This is the case, for instance, for unflavoured yogurt, butter, compote, pasta, simple bread, honey, water and fruit juice. In other categories, usually those concerning highly processed foodstuffs – such as confectionery, snacks, sauces and flavoured drinks – a large number of additives are authorised.

“Any initiative that helps educate and enlighten consumers is to be welcomed,” says an FAIA spokesman.

This legislation does just that, while helping to reinforce the message that authorised additives are not only safe but also play a key role in food safety.

Global additives market on the up

Global sales of food and drink additives reached £17.3 billion last year, according to a new report.

The best performing sectors include enzymes, acidulants and hydrocolloids, says Leatherhead Food Research’s report The Global Food Additives Market, with a growing demand for low fat, salt and sugar products – as well as functional health benefit products – driving demand for a host of additives including emulsifiers, hydrocolloids, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, soya ingredients, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, prebiotics and plant stanol esters.

The report also says that while the global additives market has not been immune to the effects of the global economic downturn, a period of modest growth is forecast for the world food additives market over the next few years.

Some of the better performing sectors are likely to include natural flavours and colours, food hydrocolloids, enzymes and functional food ingredients.

Chemist in the kitchen

A page from our first website!

If you want to know more about how food additives tie in with the chemistry that goes on in the kitchen, a downloadable booklet entitled ‘In the mix’ is accessible from the home page, or from the image on this page.

Chemicals have always been welcome in the kitchen: sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid etc.

Every cook is a chemist. The first chemical laboratories, back in the Middle Ages, were glorified kitchens, and many chemical processes derive from techniques of cooking. The vital technique of distillation was perfected in the course of man’s search for intoxicating drinks. And far from being dehumanizing, such chemical processes have an ancient magic and glamour, as the great Italian writer Primo Levi pointed out (he was also a chemist):-

Distilling is beautiful.

‘First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think of other things, somewhat like riding a bike. Then because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to invisible (vapour) invisible, and from this once again to liquid; but in this double journey, up and down, purity is obtained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart.’

Every kitchen contains a battery of chemical reagents, each with their specific chemical purpose; e.g. sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid, sodium chloride; and also substances, such as milk and eggs, that are not usually thought of as chemicals but which actually miracle reagents that chemists would still be incapable of creating if they didn’t already exist.

In many cases, ingredients that sound like chemicals are derived from natural products: lecithin from soya is similar to egg lecithin, acetic acid comes from vinegar, Vitamin C is the active ingredient of lemon juice, and so on. The principle of using additives is something that every cook, high or low, uses every time they prepare a meal. To understand the processes of making sauces, meringues, bread and cakes, of marinading, tenderising and caramelising is to become a food chemist, and it greatly enhances the pleasure of cooking to see it from a chemical point of view. Cooking is chemistry in action, with the added benefit that you can eat the results.