Both natural and artificial sweeteners play an important role in human diet as well as their importance to the food and beverage industry. Many people associate sweet taste with sucrose (commonly known as table sugar). Besides sucrose, there are also other sugars that such as glucose and fructose.
There are many sweeteners that food and beverage manufacturers use to add to their products because none of them is ideal for all applications. Among sweeteners, there are also compounds which have a sweet taste and contain no calories and sweetness of which are so intense. Because of their high sweetness intensity, they can be used at very low concentration, thus, their impact on the total caloric value is negligible.
They can be classified into
• their origin (natural or synthetic agents)
• their function (sweeteners or fillers)
• their texture (powders and syrups)
• their nutritional value (caloric and non-caloric)
Natural sweetening compounds include carbohydrates, sugar alcohols, stevia, and thaumatin.
Sucrose, glucose and fructose are sugars in the diet that originate both from natural sources such as fruits and honey or from added sugars (mainly sucrose and high fructose corn syrup). The sweetness of sucrose (more specifically its 10% aqueous solution) is taken as equal to one, and this is a reference value used for measuring the sweetening power of alternative sweeteners. Their caloric values of all sugars on a dry solid basis are 4kcal/g on average.
Polyhydric alcohols (sugar alcohols, polyols) are low digestible carbohydrates which occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and human organism. The most important and most commonly used polyols in food products are sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, erythritol, isomalt and lactitol. Polyols’ sweetness varies from 25% to 100% as compared to table sugar, thus, they are often used in combination with other sweeteners to achieve the desired flavor and level of sweetness.
They are used volume-for-volume like sugar and are called bulk sweeteners. Similarly to carbohydrates, they also play role in retaining moisture and texture as well as product preservation.
These compounds have lower nutritional value than the sugars, and supply only 2kcal/g, due to incomplete digestion in human organism, usually through fermentative degradation which results in short-chain fatty acids and gases.
Sugar alcohols glycemic index is much smaller than sugar, thus, they are frequently used to sweeten food products for diabetics. In addition, they can be used as probiotics and anti-caries action results from the fact that sugar alcohols are not fermented by bacteria appearing in the mouth, so that the teeth are not exposed to acid damaging the enamel.
Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is the source of non-caloric sweetening compounds scientifically called steviol glycosides. There are known over 30 different steviol glycosides, but the most commonly known are stevioside and rebaudioside A, which are commercially produced by chemical and physical processes. Stevioside and rebaudioside A constitute about 90% of all sweet glycosides in the leaves of stevia. Steviol glycosides are stable in high temperature, up to 200 °C, thus they can be used in products which are heated. Moreover, they are stable in acidic and alkaline medium (pH 3-9). Stevia sweetener can be stored for long periods, is not fermentable and does not undergo browning reaction. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
According to JECFA (Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives), steviol glycosides are safe for human consumption as a non-medical ingredient up to 4 mg/kg b.w./day. They also have been approved by the European Commission in 2011 for use in food and beverages in European countries. Highly purified steviol glycosides were also classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) in the USA.
Thaumatin is a mixture of two proteins (thaumatin I and thaumatin II) that is extracted from the arils of the fruit of Thaumatococcus daniellii (Benth). It enhances and modifies flavors, improves mouth feel and also provides natural sweetness. It is soluble in water and heat-stable.
It characterizes with sweetness about 2000 times higher than sucrose (on a weight base) and a licorice after-taste. As it is protein, it undergoes the same digestion in the human organism and supplies 4 kcal/g, but due to such high sweetness it is used in extremely small amounts, thus, their caloric values in food is negligible.
Grembecka, Małgorzata. “Natural sweeteners in a human diet.” Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny 66.3 (2015). PubMed, PMID 26400114
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