Ice Cream Makers Struggle To Find Low-sugar Option

U.S. consumers are cutting sugar from their diets, leading ice cream and yogurt makers to look at other sweetener options, Food Business News reports.

The challenge for dairy stems from the many functional properties of sugar, which includes how it feels in the mouth, taste, water-binding, reduction of freezing point, flow and viscosity. No one sweetener is able to mimic all of these properties.

Blends and naturally derived sweeteners are gaining traction as manufacturers look for ways to cut sugar without sacrificing the taste and, crucially, the texture that sugar provides.

Nearly 60% of Americans are trying to cut down on sugar, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll – more than those targeting lower calories, sodium, fats, carbohydrates or cholesterol. Just 39% of respondents said they did not intend to reduce their sugar intake, so it’s a natural move for heavy sugar users like ice cream makers to look at other options.

A Mintel’s 2017 report on things to come in the industry listed the top trend to be backlash against sugar, so it’s an issue that consumers are already starting to think about. Brands like Nestle and Pepsi have already made efforts to reduce the amount of sugar in their products, and many other manufacturers are following suit.

Creating healthier ice cream with all the creamy indulgence consumers expect is a significant challenge for food manufacturers; a process further complicated by the public's perception that low-sugar products compromise on taste. 

Among naturally derived low-calorie sweeteners, stevia and monk fruit extracts tend to have a later onset of sweetness than sugar. Some also add the sugar alcohol erythritol to the mix, and others have isolated specific steviol glycosides – stevia’s sweet components – to create blends that provide a more sugar-like sweetness in dairy products.

Caloric options include fruit concentrates, honey, and plant-derived syrups like agave, barley malt extract and isomaltulose, which is digested more slowly than sugar and does not promote tooth decay.

Some dairy dessert makers choose to target fewer calories, rather than clean label ingredients, in their effort to strike a balance between health and indulgence with low-calorie sweeteners are still proving popular. Advantame is said to work well with chocolate flavors, allowing manufacturers to retain a rich chocolate taste even with cheaper ingredients. Allulose has a similar mouthfeel to sugar at 70% of its sweetness and without the calories. Meanwhile, parallel advances in bulking agents, including inulin, oligosaccharides and various hydrocolloids, have helped add back the texture and mouthfeel that is often lost when sugar is removed.

Even though there is a market for low-sugar ice cream, its value shrank from 2009-2014, according to a Euromonitor analyst writing in Nutraceuticals World, as did the low-fat ice cream market. Healthy indulgence is still a difficult concept to sell to ice cream consumers, with little, if any, room for compromise when it comes to taste.