John H. Downs, Jr., president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), said approximately 123 million U.S. households purchase chocolate, non-chocolate candy, gum or mints each year. “Most people in the United States enjoy candy about twice a week, averaging less than 50 calories per day from confectionery items," he said. “However, candy is enjoyed across every age, demographic group and lifestyle, meaning that it has a high household-purchase rate and produces about $35 billion in retail sales annually in the United States."
It’s safe to say, whether it’s chocolate, hard candy, chewing gum, licorice or gummies, something about confections brings out the kid in all of us. The reality is, however, that while consumers love their confectionery treats, many who indulge are limiting their confectionery consumption out of concern for their health.
The digital issue, “Sweets For The Sweet: Sweeteners in Confectionery" explores the addition of sweeteners such as sugar alcohols, high-intensity sweeteners and the classics like honey in current-day confections to meet the ever-changing needs of the healthy consumer.
“For many, terms like ‘reduced-sugar’ or ‘sugar-free’ do not go with the word ‘candy,’" R.J. Foster pointed out in his article Sweet Sensations. “And yet, the confectionery industry is facing growing demand for treats that offer the taste people have grown to love without the adverse health effects they’re looking to avoid. Thankfully, there is a growing palette of ingredients from which candy makers can paint a new picture of sweetness that will be appreciated by the even most discerning of confectionery critics."
Sugar alcohols, aka polyols, such as sorbitol and mannitol, are a common ingredient in reduced-sugar and sugar-free applications, especially confections. Being only partially digestible, though, replacing a portion of a formulation’s sugar with a sugar alcohol reduces total calories without losing bulk, which can occur when replacing sugar with high-intensity sweeteners. Unique flavoring, texturizing and moisture-controlling effects also make polyols well-suited for confectionery products.
High-intensity sweeteners are another collection of sweeteners that have a long-running relationship with confectionery treats. One of the most familiar artificial sweeteners today is aspartame, better known to consumers by the brand name NutraSweet. Aspartame is considered to have a clean sweet taste similar to that of sucrose. Although typically considered 200-times sweeter than sugar, in confections, it’s usually only considered 100 times. Another familiar artificial sweetener is acesulfame K (potassium). Derived from acetoacetic acid, it has a molecular structure similar to saccharin. Formulating with either aspartame or acesulfame K will require the addition of bulking agents to make up mass from loss of sugar.
Of course stevia is included in the lineup of high-intensity sweeteners, but are you familiar with sweet proteins? Today, there are four “sweet proteins" earning the interest of formulators: monellin, miraculin, curculin and brazzein. Despite their potential benefits and growing interest from formulators, however, only one sweet protein is approved for food use in the United States so far: a blend of low-molecular weight proteins called thaumatin. It is about 2,000-times sweeter than sugar, although with a slow onset of sweetness, and recognized as FDA GRAS for use as a flavor modifier in chewing gum coatings to prolong the flavor of spearmint, peppermint and citrus flavors.
And to round off the palette of sweeteners, gaining a new perspectives on familiar ingredients such as honey and reduced-sugar corn syrup is beneficial to confectionery product developers. Why? Well, honey, about 25-percent sweeter than sucrose, is becoming popular in confections primarily due to being recognized as a natural sweetener by consumers and having the clean-label designation of simply “honey." Sweets for thought.