Natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit extracts may be one route to clean label dairy, but ingredient suppliers and researchers have developed a range of natural options beyond sweeteners.
Consumers continue to be concerned about added sugar in foods and beverages, while also turning away from artificial sweeteners. In the UK, for example, a Food Standards Agency survey found in May 2018 that 55% of consumers were concerned about the amount of sugar in their food and drink, up from 39% in 2010. And across five European countries – France, the UK, Italy, Sweden and Germany – a quarter of adults seek out low-sugar products, according to a 2016 Sensus survey. The market research organisation also found that 60% of respondents said they monitored their sugar intake.
With this in mind, Chr Hansen has recently released a yoghurt culture that boosts the natural sugars in milk by converting some of the lactose to sweeter-tasting glucose, thereby reducing the need for added sugars. The company claims it is the first to use a culture to produce this effect, providing a clean label solution for manufacturers looking to respond to consumer demand for naturally healthy, lower sugar dairy products.
Meanwhile, enzymatic solutions have been used successfully to reduce sugar for several years. Enzyme companies like Novozymes and DSM traditionally marketed lactase for the production of lactose-free dairy products, as it breaks lactose into glucose and galactose. Now, they also are promoting the enzyme for its ability to increase the sweetness in yoghurts and other dairy products without the need for added ingredients. Because glucose is sweeter than lactose, the approach can allow for a sugar reduction of 20-50%.
A range of more unusual solutions is also available, including changing the colour of the packaging or of the yoghurt itself. According to research led by neuroscientist Professor Charles Spence at the University of Oxford, orange and red colours may boost consumer perception of sweetness, meaning manufacturers theoretically could reduce sugar content without impacting taste, simply by changing the colour of their product.
Flavours could be another useful solution for cutting sugar in dairy. Analysts at Leatherhead Food Research have suggested that some flavours are so closely associated with sweetness that they boost sweetness perception without actually being sweet in themselves. Strawberry esters and vanilla, for example, work in this way, as the sweet smell of foods and flavours at the back of the nose enhances the sweet taste perceived in the mouth