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Summary

  • Reducing sugar in chocolate and confectionary products is challenging since sugar provides much of the characteristic flavor and texture
  • In chocolate and confections, partial sugar reductions with stevia can be successfully achieved with the use of bulking and gelling agents
  • Stevia’s stability in high acid environments as well as at high temperatures makes it an excellent choice for reduced sugar confectionary applications

Introduction

Over the past 50 years, consumption of sugar has increased in many parts of the world and has been implicated as a contributor to obesity, diabetes and other related diseases. In many parts of the world including Europe, confectionary products such as chocolates and candies are some of the highest contributors to total sugar intake (Azaïs-Braesco, 2017). Stevia is a great choice for reducing the sugar in confectionary products since it is stable during thermal processing.

Stevia and Chocolate Applications

Sugar, namely sucrose, is one of the main ingredients in chocolate and comprises 30-70% of the formulation depending on the type (CFR, 2017). In addition to sweetness, sugar confers multiple functional properties to chocolate including melting profile, mouthfeel, taste, and rheological properties. For these reasons, replacement of sugars with intense sweeteners including stevia pose serious challenges in chocolate confections (Aidoo, 2015).

Bulking agents play an integral role in replacing sugar with stevia. A recent study on sugar-free chocolate sweetened with stevia extract evaluated the effect of two different bulking agents, inulin and polydextrose, on physicochemical and sensory properties (Belščak-Cvitanović, 2015). Results indicate that the chocolate containing inulin was superior on many physicochemical measures (melting point, plastic viscosity and behavior flow index) and was very similar to full sugar control for overall acceptability and descriptive sensory attributes (appearance, firmness, smoothness, mouthfeel and flavor).

Additional research further investigates the sensory characteristics of sugar free chocolates made the stevia. Time intensity sensory tests were applied to sugar free bittersweet chocolates made with prebiotic fiber (inulin) and high purity stevia leaf extract (rebaudioside A) (Azevedo, 2016). Results determined that chocolate made with 0.16% rebaudioside A in the formulation had a similar sweetness time intensity to chocolate made with 47.5% sucrose.

High-purity stevia leaf extracts also work well in reduced sugar chocolate alone and in combination with other bioactive ingredients. Research on the physical, bioactive and sensory quality measures of 20% reduced sugar chocolates made with a several different natural sweeteners and nutraceutical substances found that chocolates containing stevia and peppermint exhibited the best sensory properties as well as the highest polyphenolic content and antioxidant capacity (Belščak-Cvitanović, 2015).

Replacement of sugar with stevia can be combined with other technologies to optimize chocolate formulation. In research aimed to develop a higher protein, healthier and more cost-effective version of a compound chocolate, whole milk powder was replaced with full fat soy flour, sugar was replaced with a stevia-mannitol blend and cocoa butter was replaced with soybean oil (Pandey, 2011). The optimal version was determined to be a 40% replacement for all three ingredients. Considering the stevia-mannitol blend, the authors noted a decrease in flavor acceptability when used beyond a 40% replacement. Shelf life testing found the optimized chocolate acceptable after 90 days of storage at 16°C and 65% relative humidity.

Stevia and Other Confectionary Applications

Sugar confectionary includes products that contain predominantly one form or another of the following sugars: sucrose (usually cane or beet sugar), dextrose (otherwise known as glucose, usually corn sugar), fructose (often referred to as fruit sugar) or lactose (otherwise known as milk sugar). Examples include hard boiled candies, caramels/toffee, fudge creams, chewing gums, gummies/jellies, licorice and marshmallow and chocolates (Zumbe, 2001). Unfortunately, overconsumption of confectionery may lead to an excess intake of sugar, fat and energy which are implicated in the etiology of dental caries, obesity and metabolic diseases associated with obesity.

Stevia extracts are increasingly utilized in confectionary applications as a means to lower sugar content. Stevia has many advantages in confectionary applications including: acid and temperature stability, sweetness stability throughout shelf life, and excellent synergies with other sweeteners (Pure Circle, 2016).

Gummy candies achieve their characteristic texture through the incorporation of various gelling agents such as gelatine, starch and pectin. Reduced sugar versions are technically challenging as sugar, usually in the form of sucrose, glucose and corn syrups contributes to the flavor and consistency (Lubbers, 2003). A recent study confirmed the usage of stevia in successfully reducing sugar in gummy candy. In a gummy candy with 60% reduced sugar formulated with stevia rebaudiana B, the level of satisfaction in school children was statistically similar to that made with 100% sugar and the resulting protein content was almost 30% higher (Aranda-González, 2014).

Chewing gum typically consists of a gum base, sweetener, flavoring and aromatic agents. Historically, chewing gum was sweetened with sucrose and contributed to tooth decay. Today, the majority of chewing gums are sweetened with sugar substitutes such as polyol sweeteners, artificial sweeteners or both (Ly, 2008). Stevia presents an attractive option, especially for consumers seeking a natural sweetener alternative. In selecting a sweetener system for chewing gum, it is important to consider not only peak sweetness but also the sweetness perception across the duration of the chewing experience.

Stevia is a powerful tool for reducing sugars in chocolate and confectionary applications. With proper development, reduced sugar products made with stevia can be acceptable substitutes to full sugar versions from both a sensory and functional standpoint.


REFERENCES

  1. Aidoo, R., Afoakwa, E. & Dewettinck, K. Rheological properties, melting behaviours and physical quality characteristics of sugar-free chocolates processed using inulin/polydextrose bulking mixtures sweetened with stevia and thaumatin extracts. LWT-Food Sci. Technol. (2015).
  2. Aranda-González, I. et al. [Development of a gummy candy reduced in calories by sugar substitution with Stevia rebaudiana B]. Nutr. Hosp. 31, 334–40 (2014).
  3. Azaïs-Braesco, V., Sluik, D. & Maillot, M. A review of total & added sugar intakes and dietary sources in Europe. Nutrition (2017).
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