Taste Tests on Display at IFT

As the CSD market gradually declines and consumers continue their search for healthy, good-tasting beverages, scientists are working toward the next evolutionary set of sweeteners. These beverage scientists realize that no single stevia can work with any kind of beverage, so they tinker with proprietary blends. They keep pushing away from the bitterness threshold, but it’s no small task. They shared their latest compositions earlier this month at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conference at McCormick Place South in Chicago.

To prove the efficacy of their products, some beverage scientists encouraged conference attendees to sample products infused with their latest sweeteners.

Among the many companies serving beverage prototypes, Celanese was one of the few putting its prototypes head-to-head versus full-calorie control beverages. The taste-test was designed to demonstrate the relative equivalency between the beverages formulated with Celanese’s recently launched Qorus sweetener system and the corresponding full-calorie counterparts.

Sweet Green Fields was another company willing to showcase a proprietary blend against the industry standard. Mel C. Jackson, vice president of science at Sweet Green Fields, said that two compositions, HPX and HPS, are proprietary sugar reduction compositions made from different steviol glycosides.

“They’re very advantageous in getting 33, 50 percent sugar reduction in beverages without bitterness and lingering,” he said. “And they’re very cost-competitive.”

Jackson said that HPS typically applies better to beverages with lower sweetness levels, such as the no-sugar-added chocolate milk on display at their booth.

“I challenge anybody to say that it’s lacking any sugar at all,” Jackson said. “The only sugar is the lactose in the milk.”

While Jackson and other beverage scientists hope that their sweeteners alter the perception of stevia’s taste, Steve Pearce, chief innovation officer for Maverick Innovations, has taken a different approach by allowing the natural taste of the different sweeteners he employs to emerge in his own sweetener blends.

Pearce blends are based on the recognition that the strong flavors of some sweeteners are better off being successfully tweaked, rather than unsuccessfully reversed.

At Maverick’s IFT booth, Pearce shared syrups of flavors that were more traditional, such as strawberry and raspberry, to flavors a bit more obscure, such as sticky toffee pudding and pecan maple. The pecan maple, for example, did not contain pecans or maple syrup, yet it smelled much like both. Pearce believes that because consumers respond to smell and taste, his low-sugar syrups are highly compatible with a wide range of products in the food and beverage industries. Alongside the strong smells, Maverick’s stance on taste shows how beverage scientists have varying approaches toward diminishing the bitterness of sweeteners.

“Our theory on this is to try and work with those aftertaste flavors,” Pearce said. “We use them as part of the flavor system.”

More coverage of the innovations at the IFT conference in Chicago will follow in later stories.