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The Challenge of Measuring Sweetness

NAFFS Staff Report

“How do we measure sweetness?” Kerry Kenny, vice president of quality and technical services at Apura, told attendees of the 101st Annual NAFFS Convention that’s the main question he and his team face.

He began his presentation with a demonstration by providing a small red pill and a small cup of pure lemon juice. He asked each attendee to put the pill in their mouth and let it sit on their tongue for 30-45 seconds. “Then, when you sip the pure lemon juice, it will taste sweet, like lemonade,” Kenny said. “This is an example of how Miraculin can take something with a low PH and make it sweet. Anything with a low PH, that’s sour, is being made to taste sweet.”

Sugar reduction, he said is a global trend. “Consumers are being made aware of the over-consumption of sugar. Companies, particularly those in the beverage industry, have had a universal response to lower sugar levels and lower calories. Pepsi, for example, has a well-publicized goal of reducing calories by 30 percent across its entire portfolio by 2025. This means they will be using low- and no-calorie sweeteners blended into their products.”

The sweetener systems are trying to match the taste and sweetness of sugar, Kenny said. “People still want that and that’s still the Holy Grail. This is the challenge for which we need the help of flavorists.”

Kenny said the World Health Organization Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group subgroup of Diet & Nutrition was due to offer its guidance on consumption of carbohydrates and non-sugar sweeteners. He expected the most likely result would be a recommendation of general consumption reduction.

Kenny said there are varying opinions on the value of Sucralose and that more research is being done on whether it helps lose or control weight. And the other sweeteners, Aspartame, Sucralose, Monk Fruit, Stevia, etc., have been studied. “The measuring of the sweetness is still, even today, a challenge in the beverage industry,” he said.

He identified many reasons for this. The definition of sweetness, he offered, is “the basic taste commonly perceived or experienced while consuming foods rich in sugar. These perceptions can be affected by the person’s age, ethnicity, geographical location, childhood experiences or individual genetics. And to complicate that further, the beverage itself is made up of so many ingredients, including acids, buffers, temperature, PH, proteins, flavors and carbonation - all of which make the taste of sweetness difficult to measure.”

There are many different ways consumers sense sweeteners, Kenny said. “There is the mouthfeel, the metallic sensation, different onsets and bitter off notes, making it a challenge to get to that ‘Sucrose curve.’ But how do you measure it? There are so many options from a sweetness perspective, a huge portfolio of sweeteners out there! There are also sensory pathologies to assess sweetness of different matrixes but not a universal one that’s recognized by regulatory agencies or the World Health Organization. There’s no silver bullet to measure sweetness,” Kenny said.

Kenny said he enjoys Coke Zero Sugar, a newer product Coca-Cola has put out in place of its Coke Zero. There was a huge marketing campaign and new packaging surrounding this “new” product but according to Kenny, for the product itself, only one thing changed: the flavor. “Coke tweaked the natural flavors to make it taste more like a Coca-Cola - flavor that gave it a similar mouth feel and sweetness profile of Coke,”

Kenny cited the following as issues and opportunities for the sector:

● There is a lot of market pressure to reduce sweeteners in general, not just sugars but low- and no-calorie sweeteners as well. “We as an industry have to be positioned to respond to new guidelines likely coming to us from the World Health Organization, for example.”

● “Modulators can assist us by enhancing the sweetness or improving the taste of the profile.” Kenny said insight from the flavor industry will be of critical importance in this area.

● Labeling implications have to be considered when any ingredient is added to a product.

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