What They Said
Early in December 2016, Nestle announced that it had developed a way to optimize the sweetness of sugar by restructuring its crystals. The “hollowed sugar,” as Nestle calls it, claims to be able to reduce sugars in chocolates by up to 40%. The company has not disclosed details on its sugar processing as it pursues a patent for this technology. Its lead researcher explains that the new sugar “will be processed to have the same sugar exterior – though it may be a globe instead of a box.” The company emphasizes that it uses only natural ingredients, and the compound is still sugar, not an alternative sweetener. Nestle will roll out its chocolate products using the new sugar beginning in 2018, but will perform ingredient substitution gradually to avoid sudden taste changes perceivable by its consumers.
What We Think
Nestle leads the way in reducing sugar with its new version of sugar described as “hollowed sugar.” While this version is less dense than regular sugars, the “hollowed sugar” is probably not actually hollow. Most likely, a micron sized particle serves as a spherical template for the sugar to coat in order to reduce volume but increase surface area. Sugar particles are unlikely to maintain a hollowed spherical shape without a template holding it in place. To begin with, it would be difficult to recrystallize sugars into porous structures of a fine particle size. In a volume of milk chocolate, where sugar is the second major ingredient (20-40% composition), the unstable sugar particles could collapse and crystallize into larger crystals. Crystal sizes over the range of 30 µm lead to a grainy texture in chocolate. For this reason, Nestle likely uses a natural ingredient that acts as a carrier for the sugars that increases the sugars’ surface area, thereby enhancing its perceived sweetness by weight. This approach is similar to DouxMatok’s approach, which uses mineral particles as carriers and claims to remove 20-60% of sugar. Unlike Nestle’s sugar that dissolves upon contact with moisture, DouxMatok’s sugars have application in beverage solutions. Eran Baniel (DouxMatok CEO) explains that their mineral carriers bond to the sugar by “noncovalent chemistry” and deliver the sugars to the taste receptor, where they “unload the sugar.”
Competitors seeking to catch up to Nestle may try to copy this sugar reduction technique, but Nestle’s hollowed sugar is only one of many possible approaches to increasing the surface area of sugar particles. Milling the sugar crystals into nano-sized particles increases its surface area and can enhance its sweetness by five to seven times that of regular sugar, according to “nano sugars” developers Alkem Laboratories and P Three Sweetener Global. Flavor modulators are another approach to sugar reduction. These molecules interact with the taste receptor to enhance or mask the perception of specific tastes, and they can come from natural sources and are usually required in only small ppm concentration. Innovators such as Chromocell (client registration required) can accelerate the discovery of novel bitter blockers and sweetness enhancers that could address sugar reduction.
Nestle’s announcement, coupled with the already aggressive backlash against sugar, sets heavy pressure on other manufacturers to achieve similar sugar reduction goals. Most manufacturers have focused on finding alternative sweeteners to substitute sugars, often looking at high intensity sweeteners, but manipulating sugar crystals themselves serve as a better approach, avoiding challenges with off-tastes and potential health concerns. Nestle now sets the bar high for reducing sugar without introducing new compounds as replacements. It is still not too late for manufacturers to catch up to Nestle if they act now to explore the various techniques available to enhance sugar’s perceived sweetness.
By: Joice Pranata