Sugar sweetens countless food and beverage products across nearly every category. But currently, and for a variety of reasons, sugar prices are volatile and rising, forcing manufacturers to rethink their formulations. Ajinomoto Food Ingredients refers to this as sweetener economics.
“Currently, the world of sweetener economics revolves around sugar prices, which are very high and unpredictable, particularly in the United States," says Ihab Bishay, director, business development and application innovation. “At the same time, the cost of high-fructose corn syrup, which has generally been the economical alternative to sugar, is also going up."
As a result, the company is seeing growing interest among food and beverage manufacturers to replace at least some of the sugar in their products with alternative sweeteners, “as a way of hedging against the price increases for caloric sweeteners," Bishay says. “What we’re seeing is that industry is looking for sweeteners that can replace 20% to 40%, or even more, sugar to reduce cost of the formulation. Leading the way in this effort is aspartame."
Its taste profile is similar to sugar, yet it is 180 to 200 times more potent, so its cost per use is much lower. Further, aspartame enhances flavors, maintaining the integrity and quality of a flavor without distorting it. When reformulating a product, reduced flavor usage may be necessary to maintain an exact flavor match. But this, too, results in cost savings, Bishay notes. And, in this day of growing health consciousness among consumers, aspartame also offers reduced calories and carbohydrates.
“The challenge is that aspartame does not have the exact same taste profile as sugar, so there is a limit to how much sugar you can replace with aspartame and not change the profile," Bishay says. “In a beverage, for example, replacing 1/3 of the sugar with aspartame is pretty straightforward and doable. Beyond that you will start getting mouthfeel differences and you may begin to get taste differences."
The company is also developing a new ultra-high potency sweetener called advantame, which is made from aspartame and vanillin and is 20,000 times sweetener than sugar. It has a sweet, clean sugarlike taste and will be ideally suited for partial sugar replacement to significantly reduce cost while maintaining product quality. Advantame has also been demonstrated to be a flavor enhancer and is approved as a FEMA GRAS ingredient in beverages, frozen desserts, milk products and chewing gum. Ajinomoto is currently awaiting approval on a food-additive petition submitted to FDA in April 2009 for dry-use applications.
Ajinomoto Food Ingredients LLC
8430 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Suite 635
Chicago, IL 60631