Emerging Research in Aromas & Sweetness Enhancement

Posted on:August 24, 2017

August 24, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store page. Please consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Additions of tomato and strawberry volatiles associated with sweetness to their respective fruits to 2% sucrose solutions incrementally increased the perceived sweetness of the sucrose solutions by as much as 75%. [For larger PDF version of chart, click on image.]

The presentation by Thomas Colquhoun, Ph.D., Plant Biologist at the University of Florida (Gainesville), built further on the concept of multi-modal sweetness perceptions developed by previous speakers. The focus was on the potential role of volatiles and, perhaps also color and shape, on sweetness perception.

“I run a plant biotech lab that is affiliated with the UF/IFAS Plant Innovation Center, for which the overarching goal is to better people’s lives through better plant products,” explained Colquhoun. “We do this by enhancing the aesthetic appeal of plants; increasing flavor and nutritional value; and delivering plant products that consumers actually want.”

Colquhoun explained the process used: “The first step is to test and quantify consumer expectations and perceptions using methods referred to as ‘psychophysics.’ We try to understand what people’s perceptions are of plant products, from taste and flavor to emotion and perceived importance.”

Second, the germplasms of various plants are screened for biochemicals and physical attributes linked to specific, consumer-identified desirability traits. “We link molecular biology, biochemistry and psychophysics,” said Colquhoun. Finally, once the specific plant genes associated with desirable traits are identified, breeding programs are developed to imbed the desired characteristics into the targeted plants.

The laboratory’s first application of these methods identified that “sweetness” was the most desirable trait that consumers identified with strawberries. The next step was to
categorize all available strawberry germ plasms by their respective combinations of sugars, acids and volatiles (although, Colquhoun noted, geography and growing conditions can also affect these variables within specific cultivars). Sensory analysis, using the psychophysics process, was then used to identify the optimum combinations of these metabolites that consumers associated with sweetness.

“Going through this process, we stumbled upon the phenomenon of ‘volatile-enhanced taste,’” observed Colquhoun. “We identified volatiles that significantly contribute to
the perception of sweetness without the presence of sugar on the tongue.” This required the use of highly sophisticated and very expensive equipment, such as the laboratory’s triple-quad mass spectrophotometer, because when dealing with “human psychophysics data,” there is so much variation in the sensory data that it is necessary to obtain the highest

resolution available at the biochemical level. Even minute variations in biochemical data may be correlated to specific taste and flavor perceptions. In time, the scientists developed a  relational model that was sufficiently and consistently sensitive to be applicable to different fruits across different harvest conditions.

“When we applied a hierarchical cluster analysis to strawberries, tomatoes and blueberries, something very interesting popped out,” said Colquhoun. All three of these
fruits’ consumer profiles clustered out according to perceived sweetness; but, when clustered on the basis of their chemistry, they grouped out on the basis of their fruit identity. Thus, an important discrepancy was identified between the fruits’ basic chemical compositions and their perceived sweetness.

The question of “why?” necessitated building complex, multivariate models capable of associating specific and minute metabolite concentrations to specific sensory attributes.
The researchers found there were specific metabolites associated with “sweet” taste; and others associated with salty and bitter tastes, as well as “overall liking” and “overall fruit flavor” perceptions. Most compelling were the following two responses linked to sweetness:

1) The overall sweetness perceptions for blueberries were considerably lower than those for strawberries, at a fixed sugar content; i.e., it required a 2-3-fold higher sugar content in blueberries to match the perceived sweetness of strawberries. This result appears to support data, presented in an earlier presentation by Alex Woo, Ph.D., of W2O Food Innovation, indicating that red colors strongly evoke sweetness perceptions in foods and beverages.

2) Adding specific volatiles gleaned from strawberries and tomatoes to a 2% sucrose solution incrementally increased the sweetness perceptions of the sucrose solutions by 25-75%.

In conclusion, the roles of volatiles in modulating perceptions of sweetness are very real and substantial, as are the challenges of manipulating and measuring the presence of the same volatiles in the fruit. Thus, even tiny changes can offer enormous payoffs.

“Emerging Research in Aromas and Sweetness Enhancement,” Thomas Colquhoun, Assistant Professor, Plant Biotechnology, University of Florida,


The Science Behind Sugar Reduction: Ingredient Functionality Beyond Taste

Posted on:August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store page. Please consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Groves, chart, 2016 SSC

Product blueprints provide historical R&D and quality checklists for addressing formula, quality and process adjustments. Up-front investments in product blueprint development are also cost-effective in the long run, especially for products with high-volume sales and strong brand equity. [For larger PDF of chart, click on image.]

What if the development or reformulation of a product was entirely predictable? What if it was a process informed by science, rather than “gut feel”—allowing consistency and quality to be controlled on a global scale, regardless of differences in processing, packaging or the ingredient supply chain?

This was the objective sought by Leatherhead Food Research (UK) Professor Kathy Groves, Head of Science and Microscopy. “If you want to reduce sugar in foods and—this is important—make high-quality products anywhere in the world, then you need to have a proper blueprint of your products,” said Groves.

“Blueprint” refers to a technical map that tells a product developer or food scientist how a product is affected when specific parameters are changed: the effect of formula or process changes on product state, process, structure, texture and sensory properties, for example. While acknowledging that developing such a blueprint is not an easy proposition without access to the relevant technical skillsets, “not doing so for a product (with mass market appeal) can create significant inefficiencies in your product development process. The cost of not doing a blueprint far outweighs the cost of doing one,” said Groves.

How does one begin to develop such a blueprint? Begin by laying out the various parameters that define product performance and quality attributes, such as texture, chemistry, nutritional ingredient functionality and nutritional value, to cite a few examples. Each parameter is, in turn, defined by a list of specific attributes or other variables, such as “foam or emulsion interface” under ingredient functionality, or “viscosity and rheology” under texture. Such a blueprint provides a checklist for product and process developers whereby to address product-related issues in a systematic manner.

To demonstrate the concept, Groves provided the example of a biscuit’s (i.e., cookie) microstructure and its relationship to texture and other quality parameters. She began by showing a crumb structure as seen under a conventional stereomicroscope, emphasizing that the observable crumb structure has “everything to do with your experience when you eat it.”

If one cuts a thin slice through the crumb, one observes “a matrix of starch, protein, sugar and fat throughout the crumb structure.” Transmitted cross-polarized light through the slice causes anything with ordered crystallinity (e.g., sugar, fat) to appear white and, when stained, the matrix becomes much clearer, further distinguishing the positions of starches and proteins in the matrix.

The next step is to zoom into the structure with a scanning electron microscope. Air gaps become evident, which affect the fracture mechanics “when one bites into the product,” said Groves. Changing the type of detector in the electron microscope
brings out the (white) fat in the image. Fat distribution can affect taste perception–i.e., a creamy mouthfeel associated with fat particles that are broadly distributed over the crumb surface. Such microstructure data can then be linked with other techniques, such as texture or audio analyses, to determine chewing properties or brittleness, in order to further enhance the blueprint.

What happens to the product blueprint if we replace sugar in the biscuit with a typically used alternative bulk sweetener? Whereas the sugar formula exhibits evenly distributed sugar, fat, starch and protein, these fat, protein and starch interactions are very different
in the biscuit crumb with the alternative bulk sweetener. Also, the structure (viewed under a scanning electron microscope) appears very uneven; large gaps and major differences in fat distribution were evident.

“All these observed differences contribute to very different eating sensations,” said Groves. Texture analysis reveals that the sugar formula results in a harder biscuit than with the alternative bulk sweetener product.

It is clear that removing sugar has enormous implications for a biscuit’s microstructure, which in turn has implications for texture, flavor and shelflife. Developing a blueprint for a product’s ingredient function, chemistry, nutritional value, texture and other values provides a map for product formula and process adjustment, or new product development.

“Once you start doing this, it gets better, it gets easier, you become more informed—and you can extend that accumulated knowledge to other product applications,” concluded Groves.

“The Science Behind Sugar Reduction: Ingredient Functionality Beyond Taste,” Prof. Kathy Groves, Head of Science & Microscopy and Consultant, Leatherhead Food Research, Kathy.Groves@


Simply Sweet: Make Foods and Beverages Sweeter with Sight, Smell, Sound and Touch

Posted on:August 1, 2017

August 1, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store pagePlease consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Working up the pyramid of ingredient and sensory modalities allows one to achieve a 12% sucrose-equivalence (SE) in food or beverage products using high-potency sweeteners (HPS). A 12% SE is similar to that of conventional, sucrose-sweetened carbonated beverages. [For larger PDF of chart, click on image.]

“How do you make food and beverages sweet without using sugar?” asked Alex Woo, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of W2O Food Innovation. Answering his own question, he continued, “You can do this by combining a basic understanding of neuroscience and ingredient technology.”

Woo began his presentation by expanding upon conventional concepts of “flavor,” setting the stage whereby to show how to systematically achieve a 12% sucrose-level of sweetness typically associated with carbonated, sugared beverages. He proposed a pyramidal approach to using low- or no-calorie sweetener alternatives.

First, said Woo, flavor is not just about the five primary tastes. “Flavor is also 80-90% influenced by smell in the nose.” Touch receptors in the mouth let us distinguish between grainy, creamy or crunchy foods. Sound has been labeled “the forgotten flavor sense” by one academic researcher. “So, when we are talking about flavor in foods, we are really talking about the full integration of all five senses…smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing.” Each of these senses is called a “modality.”

Woo briefly summarized the different taste receptors in the mouth. “We are hard-wired to make no mistakes in detecting primary tastes, in large part, for survival reasons.” Signals from different taste and other receptors are integrated into perceived flavors by the brain.

In order to remove sugar from a product while protecting its sweet taste perception, Woo proposed “a methodology similar to stacking layers onto a pyramid in order to achieved the desired sweet taste intensity.”

First, there is a foundational layer comprising a high-potency, plant-based sweetener (HPS), such as stevia. If the stevia is stacked with monk fruit (not yet approved in the EU) in a 2:1 ratio (200-100ppm), this achieves about 6% sucrose equivalence (SE) in sweetness. This is equivalent to about a 50% sucrose reduction for most beverages in the market, said Woo.

The next step is to add a bulk non- or low-caloric sweetener, such as erythritol or allulose, to boost the sweetness by an additional 2% to approximately 8% SE. “Less is more,” counseled Woo. You want to add just enough of each sweetener to maximize
its sweetness effect without contributing off-flavors. In addition, there are the time-intensity curves to be considered, as addressed by John Fry, Connect Consulting, in his presentation.

The next step on the pyramid relies upon “cross-modal correspondence.” This refers to the integration of multiple signals from all five senses in the brain. Of these, the most important is smell. “We have about 400 smell receptors in the nose that can detect up to trillion different odors” which interact with taste to create flavors. Phantom flavors are those that operate below their own taste detection level but serve to enhance the sweetness of sweeteners. Congruent flavors are aroma molecules above the detection level that are typically associated with sweetness. These include sugar, honey or molasses distillates, tomato aroma, tea distillates or vanilla aroma.

Combined, this achieves about 10% SE. But for carbonated diet beverages, one will need a 12% SE. This requires “cross-modal modulation,” involving the interplay between the other sensory modalities.

Touch, including temperature sensations and carbonation (a pain agent), can mute differences between different artificial, high-potency sweeteners, making them more like sucrose. Lower temperatures make stevia more potent, while higher temperature increases sweetness perception in chocolate.

Sight: Shape (roundness) is associated with sweetness. Symmetrical and minimal features serve to enhance sweetness perceptions by 10-30% (in chocolates, for example). Such associations also exist in nature, where round fruits are associated with
sweetness. The color red is also associated with sweetness. Woo noted that both Coke and Pepsi’s carbonated beverages emphasize round shapes and red colors in their packaging.

Sound has been easy to overlook, but there is considerable documentation linking it to sweetness perception. High-pitched music has been associated with increased sweetness, whereas lowpitched music suggests increased bitterness.

Combined, this pyramidal combination of ingredients based on neuroscience serves to attain the 12% SE target for sweetness.

“Simply Sweet: Updates on How to Make Foods and Beverages Sweeter with Sight, Smell, Sound and Touch,” Alex Woo, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of W2O Food Innovation,

How High-potency Sweeteners Work and What to Do about It

Posted on:July 17, 2017

July 17, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store pagePlease consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

John Fry, 2016 Sweetener Systems Conference

One of the most successful high-potency sweeteners used by food and beverage manufacturers is a combination of fast-taste onset acesulfame-K (AceK) with the more slow-onset aspartame. Together, they more closely mimic the taste profile of sucrose and exhibit synergistic taste intensity. [For larger version of chart, click on image.]

Food scientists have available to them a range of high-potency sweeteners, but are they being used effectively? Maximizing the potential of these ingredients in foods and beverages is of paramount importance to product development. John Fry, Ph.D., of UK-based Connect Consulting, explained, however, that “rather than emphasize how these sweeteners work, I spend a great deal of time talking about how they don’t work and offering remedies.”

To know how to do this, one needs first to understand the physiology
of sweetness receptors. Sweet taste receptors in the mouth are complex protein structures crossing the cell walls of sweet-sensing taste cells. The taste cells are contained within taste buds, distributed in the papillae of the tongue. The buds communicate with the exterior saliva via a taste “pore,” within which are tiny projections of the taste cells, called microvilli. The receptor proteins are on the microvilli and comprise four zones:

1) A “Venus fly trap” structure outside the taste cell and in contact with saliva;
2) an external, cysteine-rich protein chain connecting the Venus fly trap to:
3) a transmembrane zone of seven helical strands of protein, terminating in:
4) an intracellular protein thread that interacts with the taste cell contents and triggers a complex series of biochemical reactions, culminating in a nerve signal to the brain that signifies “sweet.”

The primary route for humans to sense sweetness requires two such receptors, T1R2 and T1R3, intertwined. This arrangement affords multiple points where the proteins can interact with the wide variety of substances we experience as sweet. A given high-potency sweetener generally interacts with only one or two such sites on the receptor complex.

There is, in addition, a secondary mechanism by which humans can also detect the sweetness of certain sugars, but this route does not respond to high-potency sweeteners.

Another aspect of so-called “high-intensity” sweeteners, continued Fry, is that they are actually “low-intensity.” Few can achieve even 10% sucrose equivalent (the approximate sweetness intensity of many fruit juices and soft drinks) on their own.

In contrast, sucrose itself can deliver much higher sweetness intensities. “This is why I prefer to refer to them as ‘high-potency,’ rather than high-intensity sweeteners,” Fry averred. Providing an example of a typical response curve, Fry indicated the maximum sweetening effect of Rebaudioside A (Reb A) occurs at about 5-800ppm concentration and exhibits a sweetness level roughly equivalent to an 8% sucrose solution.

All high-potency sweeteners have similarly shaped concentration- response curves that plateau at some relatively low sweetness intensity. Continued Fry, “So, if you double the concentration of a high-potency sweetener, you do not get double the sweetness. In contrast, sucrose has a linear response of sweetness to concentration.”

In addition, different high-potency sweeteners have different time-intensity relationships that can affect their taste profile. Fry noted that combining acesulfame-K (AceK), which exhibits a quick onset and rapid drop-off of sweetness, with slow-onset, more-lingering aspartame, more closely mimics the sweetness profile of sucrose.

This relationship is also “quantitatively synergistic.” That is, the combined sweetness from these two sweeteners exceeds that which would have been predicted based on the properties of each sweetener alone. (See chart “Synergies of Low-intensity/High-potency Sweeteners.”)

“This suggests that we can get synergistic enhancements of sweetness by combining high-potency sweeteners that react at different parts of the receptor structures,” concluded Fry. Nevertheless, while none of the available high-potency sweeteners
alone generates sweetness intensities greater than that of about 15% sucrose solution, synergistic effects between different molecules also disappear around this level. Despite the fact that synergism will not furnish true high intensities, the effect is much used to maximize the effectiveness and taste quality of zero-calorie sweeteners in foods and beverages.

As Fry explained, use of high-potency sweeteners at levels approaching their sweetness plateau is a costly waste. In addition, at these elevated concentrations, many sweeteners exhibit intrinsic off-tastes (e.g., a bitter-metallic taste for saccharin). Blends allow product developers to keep individual sweeteners below the thresholds for off-taste development, while achieving quantitative synergies and, thus, minimizing cost.

Fry addressed other factors that can enhance the effectiveness of high-potency sweeteners, particularly in relation to typical issues of slow onset and lingering sweetness. Citing the “non-specific binding” hypothesis, he noted that increasing the osmotic pressure of food and beverage systems “compresses the time-intensity profiles of sweeteners,” thus speeding onset and reducing linger to produce more sucrose-like taste dynamics with almost any high-potency sweetener.

Hydrocolloids, sometimes used to remedy mouthfeel losses when sugars are removed, can also benefit the dynamics of sweetness perception by reducing the impact of non-specific binding. However, “perhaps the ultimate solution to the different taste qualities of high-potency sweeteners is not to use them at all,” suggested Fry. He pointed to a relatively new category of compounds, known as positive allosteric modulators (PAMs), that have no sweetness or flavor of their own but can greatly enhance the sweetness intensity of conventional sweeteners, such as sucrose.

Reduced-sugar formulations could thus be made that still deliver full sweetness and with all the taste qualities of the original sugar.

“How High-potency Sweeteners Work and What to Do about It,” John Fry, Ph.D., Director, Connect Consulting,

Caloric Sweeteners and Health: What is the Truth?

Posted on:June 15, 2017

June 16, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store pagePlease consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Panel: Sweeteners and Nutrition: New Developments & Reality Checks
Panel #1: Caloric Sweeteners and Health: What is the Truth?

Obesity results from a failure to achieve energy balance. It is unclear whether susceptible individuals become obese because their physiological mechanisms of food intake control are compromised, or whether these same control mechanisms are overridden and compromised by environmental factors (e.g., sedentary lifestyles). [For larger version of chart, click on image.]

G. Harvey Anderson, Ph.D., University of Toronto Professor of Nutritional Science and Physiology, got straight to the point: “There is insufficient evidence upon which to make public policy regarding caloric sweeteners consumption—but the horse has left the barn—and we must deal with the consequences.”

Caloric sweeteners are under siege. Very recently, the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Institute of Medicine (IOM) declared there was insufficient evidence upon which to set upper limits to caloric sweetener consumption, but it nonetheless recommended that they constitute no more than 25% of total calories. This recommendation was based not upon health issue mitigation, but on preventing the displacement of foods that contribute essential nutrients to the diet.

In contrast, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee declared that caloric sugar consumption should be limited to no more than 10% of dietary calories, due to “negative impacts” on type II diabetes, cardiovascular health and dental caries. The WHO also supported a policy of limiting caloric sweetener consumption to no more than 10% of the diet and, perhaps, to less than 5% of the diet. “And…there is now talk of imposing world-wide sugar consumption taxes,” said Anderson.

“Obesity is the public health concern that started this campaign,” explained Anderson. “We know that obesity comes from excess food intake, meaning an energy imbalance, but it remains unclear whether obesity develops from physiological systems that
make us susceptible to environmental causes, such as sedentary lifestyles, or from environmental causes alone.”

Therefore, caution is warranted.

With respect to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, for example, “We know that many of the guidelines have proven themselves wrong, over time. We keep shifting around claims, such as fat causes obesity or cardiovascular disease, only to have them later proven wrong.” This has hurt the credibility of nutritional policy-making.

Sweeteners are a normal part of life, and humans are exposed to sweet tastes from in utero to death. There are also many benefits to sweet foods. They tend to be safe; easy to store; easy to transport; require no preparation; and are relatively inexpensive. In addition, caloric sweeteners can play important roles in rendering highly nutritional products palatable, such as bitter fruit (e.g., cranberry) or high-fiber cereal products (e.g., cereal or granola bars).

So, given all these considerations, what does the evidence say? Anderson referenced the work of his University of Toronto colleague, John Sievenpiper, MD, Ph.D., FRCPC. Sievenpiper undertook a systematic review of all published studies linking sweetener consumption to health concerns, in order to critically assess whether caloric sweeteners cause diabetes and obesity (as per the U.S. 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee). He determined that no studies had been able to statistically link caloric sweetener consumption levels to either obesity or diabetes.

Such absences of associations were found for both sucrose and fructose. Certainly, no documented associations were found that could justify public policy-making on caloric sweetener consumption, summarized Anderson.

Sievenpiper also referenced studies that linked the consumption of specific foods to weight gain. Here, a weak but statistically significant association was found between weight gain and sugarsweetened beverage consumption. But, similar gains were also found for French fries, potato chips, nuts, potatoes and, even, yogurt. In sum, the studies appeared only to prove that increased energy consumption leads to weight gain. “If you eat more, you get fatter,” summarized Anderson.

Effects of sugar-sweetened beverage intake on obesity were also more difficult to categorize. Many food intake studies rely upon consumer recall. In general, people can recall their frequency of consumption much better than their quantity of consumption, said Anderson. It also can’t be ascertained whether sugar-sweetened beverage consumption levels translate directly into weight gain or serve as markers for other lifestyle factors that relate to obesity (e.g., sedentary lifestyles).

Put together, these results are inconclusive, maintained Anderson, and there remains far more work to be done before public policy-makers can credibly recommend optimal levels of caloric sweetener consumption.

“Caloric Sweeteners and Health: What is the Truth?” G. Harvey Anderson, Ph.D., University of Toronto Professor of Nutritional Science and Physiology,


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