Sunday, November 8, 2020

Recipes for Sugar Reduction

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The problem is sugar isn't easy to replace.--Nicola Twilley

From an essay by Nicola Twilley (The New Yorker September 28) I learned that "in 1800, an average American would have lived and died never having encountered a single manufactured candy." How times have changed. Not only are candies of all kinds found everywhere but so are "sugar-sweetened yogurts, snack, sauces, dressings, cereal, and drinks that now line supermarket shelves."

Twilley reports on the redesign of sugar crystals--same taste, properties but with a difference. The restructured sugar crystals contain surprisingly and considerably less sugar.  We live "in a world that is increasingly wary of sugar reinforced by dietary guidelines from organizations such as the World Health Organization, rules that require disclosure of sugar content on labels (with many nations, both in Europe and South America, requiring health warning labels on products containing more sugar than dietary guidelines, rules with teeth: they are taxed.) and public opinion.

This has been followed by pledges from major food companies to reduce the amounts of added sugar. The timelines vary although Nestle announced sugar in their products would be reduced by 5% by the end of this year (2020). The race to reach these goals is well underway and Twilley reports on the hows challenges of such reductions. 

It turns out that sugar's "range of functionality" is broad. "Sucrose reduces ice-crystal formation in ice cream; it adds crispness to baked goods, volume to dough, and a mouth filling viscosity to drinks; it improves emulsion stability in dressings; reduces grittiness in chocolate, and even increases shelf life. ...Sugar is simply too integral to every aspect of our cuisine for any other molecule to be an adequate substitute"--namely the sugar wannabees, the substitutes which are ubiquitous today.

These started with saccharin (made from coal-tar in the 1880s followed by a long period of no competitors to Splenda (developed in 1976) to aspartame "in the 1980s" (Twilley reports that Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of its launch! Who knew?) and others. Today food scientists are looking for naturally occurring sugars which are surprisingly common leading to a branch of food science known as rare-sugar research. 

This research led to a breakthrough in 1991, "when Ken Izumori (Kagawa University), "found an enzyme capable of flipping the orientation of three of the carbon atoms in fructose"--it is one-half of the sucrose molecule the other, glucose)--"turning it into a completely different sugar, allulose since been found to occur naturally" but in what I'd call trace amounts (e.g., figs and maple syrup).

We don't digest allulose so it is truly zero-calorie. And its properties? Wow! Twilley describes one, "a blueberry-cobbler flavored protein bar that was jaw-achingly sweet. " Furthermore, allulose "carmelizes, it flubbs, it stablizes and it delivers both mouthfeel and crumb structure in baked goods. ... while remaining "sufficiently alien to pass through the human intestine without being digested or fermented." The F.D.A. has determined--it took five years--that "for the purpose of nutrition labels, allulose wasn't a sugar."

In Twilley's discussion of  "an artifact of the F.D.A. approval process" the amount of allulose allowed in a product must be reduced. It must be "combined with other ingredient...each of these ingredients has its own issues: odd flavor, late or lingering sweetness, a cooling sensation, digestive repercussions; growing obesity rates and diabetes (we are headed toward a world  in which half of us will be overweight or obese within 15 years, and an estimated one in every six Americans will be diabetic.); and metabolism.

One reformulated product with the playful name Incredo (99% sucrose but reformulated with air pockets thus reducing the amount of sucrose to hit the tongue) is not so easy to work with and the company manufacturing it, Doux-Matok, requires a staff member to travel along when it is first requested by manufacturers to teach them how to use it with success whether in baking or in reformulating products.

Sweetness is complex than I knew. Receptors producing that sensation are found in other body organs and systems, e.g., "the digestive tract, and even in the central nervous system, in skin, in the testes, and in the lungs." Even the tongue is more complex: one of the two kinds of sweet receptors  "responds to  "molecules that taste sweet only if they contain calories." Reducing calories, then is not likely to stand alone independent of metabolic effects.

On this,Twilley quotes Australian food scientist Russell Keast. "'Anytime we think we've got one over on our biology, there will be collateral damage somewhere.'" This quote is a keeper.

In the end, Twilley wonders whether we shouldn't just face up and eat less sugar after reflecting "about all the money and the scientific ingenuity that had gone into" the development of these products. This has been done with salt "without anyone noticing" (British potato chips by half!) Sugar has a much higher threshold and we are quick to notice such changes.

Twilley ends by noting, "just as the only good substitute for sugar is sugar, the only good way to eat less of it, sadly, is to eat less of it." (My emphasis.)

Twilley's essay joins science, technology and science in personal and societal concerns, revealing links not often discussed and which directly and indirectly touch all of us in ways we know and in my case, didn't know. It is first-rate reporting. 

And, of course, it should come as no surprise that that economics is a motivating force among the developers. This wasn't stated nor did it need to be in my opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment