Stevia Blending in at IFT10

The Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) annual tradeshow and conference took place in Chicago from July 17-21 at McCormick Place. The event is the largest annual gathering of supplier and food scientists in North America.  The sample and prototype beverages served at IFT offer a glimpse of the near beverage future. New ingredients, novel flavors, and new beverage technology were on display at many of the 1,000+ exhibits. Photo gallery from IFT10

The refinement of stevia-sweetened beverages continues to be foremost among the many technical challenges currently being tackled by the industry’s food scientists. Approved in late 2008 by the Food and Drug Administration as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), stevia-derived Rebaudioside-A (also, known as “reb-A” or “rebiana”) is unique among high-intensity sweeteners in that it is derived from a plant (stevia)  thereby not disqualifying products containing it from using the “all-natural” designation. However, reb-a’s introduction to the beverage world in 2009 was less than sweet, as the industry faced problems related to stevia’s supply and quality. At the same time, formulators struggled to determine how to best incorporate stevia-derived sweeteners in beverages.

Stevia producers at this year’s IFT expressed confidence that sourcing and quality issues are under control, while formulators expressed similar confidence in their improved ability to incorporate reb-a in beverages. At IFT10, the common refrain we heard among suppliers and formulators alike is that stevia-derived sweeteners often work best in beverages when they are used as an adjunct to caloric sweeteners such as sucrose. To that end, we found very few prototype beverages at the show which were sweetened exclusively by reb-a, rather most beverages were stevia/caloric hybrids.

These hybrid blends are generally expressed as ratio of stevia to sugar, i.e. 50/50 to reflect the extent to which stevia is providing the sweetness in the formulation. BevNET was pleasantly surprised at the taste profile of these blended prototype beverages as they exhibited little to none of the bitter notes and licorice flavor which were common among early reb-a only beverages.

Using more of the leaf
As a molecular compound, Reb-A itself is a glycoside and is only one of several sweet glycosides found in the leaves of the stevia plant. While the GRAS designation offered by the FDA in 2008 was specifically for reb-a, an emerging trend among stevia sweetener suppliers is to offer blends that mix reb-a with other stevia-derived glycosides. These blends enable the stevia suppliers to better utilize each leaf of the plant, and consequently cost less than the reb-a only varieties.

GLG Life Tech Corp, sponsor of BevNET’s coverage of IFT10, debuted its patented multi-glycoside stevia sweetener called BlendSure at the show. GLG, which also offers reb-a only varieties, clearly sees potential for its BlendSure variety. The company claims that BlendSure delivers a “consistent, balanced, and sucrose-like taste profile that is both heat and PH stable and works well in a carbonated beverage formulation.”

GLG is also quick to point out that BlendSure is priced lower than reb-a exclusive versions, and is price competitive with sugar on a sweetness equivalency basis. “BlendSure enables GLG to create a superior taste profile at a price that meets our customers’ needs from a cost of goods standpoint”, says James Kempland, GLG vice president of marketing.

Whether through adjusting the levels of glycosides to suit a particular beverage application or through combining stevia-derived sweeteners with traditional caloric sweeteners, stevia sweeteners as a broad category appear to have emerged from their awkward adolescence and are now blending in.

Relaxation Nation
Relaxation beverages have been hot now for a couple years and this has not escaped the notice of industry suppliers. Perhaps the most consistently used functional ingredient in relaxation beverage is L-Theanine, an amino acid derivative found in tea. For years, the only GRAS L-Theanine available to the market was Taiyo International’s Suntheanine. New at this year’s IFT and now available to the market is a newly GRAS-designated L-Theanine from Ethical Naturals called Alphawave. Ethical Naturals offers it as a price-competive and GRAS alternative for beverage companies that are looking to use L-Theanine in their relaxation beverages.

Natural Colors
As of Tuesday, July 20th, foods and beverages sold in the European Union containing any one of six common synthetic  food dyes will be required to carry warnings disclaiming the link between such dyes and attention and activity in children. This requirement was enacted in response the Southampton Study in which those six artificial food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate were linked to hyperactivity in children.

Far from being confined to the European market, the synthetic food dye issue is making waves here on the other side of the Atlantic. For example, industry watchdog group Center For Science in the Public Interest released a 68 page report entitled “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks” in June.

The CSPI report and the recently enacted European label law are adding to the pressure for the US Food and Drug Administration to examine the possible risks of synthetic food dyes. In anticipation of a possible labeling requirement here in the United States and in response to growing consumer preference for natural colors, color suppliers in North America have begun to actively promote natural and nature-identical dyes for use in the beverage industry.

BevNET was able to visit with several color exhibitors at IFT10, all of which were offering  natural colors. DSM, which offers a range of beta-carotene-derived natural and nature-identical colors in various shades of yellow, orange and red, explained to BevNET that beta-carotene was present in equal amounts in the color samples they were displaying and that the color difference between the samples had to do with the structure of the beta-carotene molecules used to create each hue.  Beta-carotene is red-orange pigment found in many fruits and vegetables (think carrots!) and is a precursor to vitamin-A.

BevNET took over 100 photos of various exhibits and people we came across at this year’s IFT show. Click the following link to visit our IFT10 gallery.