Sweeteners & Flavors
Natural sweeteners & flavors add taste to foods and beverages for those who may be avoiding table sugar and artificial sweeteners.
- Low-glycemic index sweeteners.
- Zero & low-calorie sweeteners.
- Supply taste & nutritional value.
What are Natural Sweeteners & Flavors?
With the average American eating over 150 pounds of sugar every year, the United States appears to have a sweet tooth. Plain granulated table sugar, however, has fallen out of favor with some health-conscious consumers because of its high calories (15 calories per teaspoon), extensive processing and bleaching, and minimal nutritional value. In addition, many with blood sugar concerns or who are taking part in weight management programs seek to avoid plain sugar for its high glycemic index (GI), which may be associated with unstable blood glucose.
Glycemic index is a scale of 1-100 that measures how different foods impact blood sugar. Foods with a low GI have minimal impact on blood sugar. Foods with a high GI may create “spikes” that have been associated with blood sugar problems. Table sugar, with a GI rating of 68, is often avoided by those seeking to support a stable blood sugar lifestyle.
Artificial sweeteners offer non-caloric alternatives that can be hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar. While artificial sweeteners, including the class of sweeteners known as sugar alcohols, may be helpful for those pursuing healthy weight management, their synthetic origins do not always fit with today’s natural and organic healthy lifestyles.
Demand for authentic sweeteners has led to the emergence of an entirely new category of natural sweetening products, many of which are sourced from botanicals from around the globe. In culinary applications, these exotic natural sweeteners & flavors often supply greater variation, depth and complexity of sweetness than plain table sugar. These natural products are often minimally processed, thereby retaining nutrients that are processed out of refined sugar products.
Natural sweeteners & flavors include:
- Agave Nectar. Made from the sap of the same cactus-like blue agave plant that is used in the creation of tequila, agave nectar is prized for its sweet taste and low glycemic index, ranking at 30. Despite its lower GI, at 90% fructose agave nectar is sweeter than table sugar, and features flavor notes that are reminiscent of caramel, maple and vanilla. It may be used in place of sugar in recipes and for sweetening beverages. Agave nectar is available in light, amber and dark varieties. Dark agave nectar is processed the least, and therefore retains the most nutrition and greatest depth of rich, caramel-like flavor. Amber agave nectar has a milder taste and the lowest GI of all varieties. Light agave nectar is processed via filtering that yields sweet, neutral-flavored syrup that may be the most versatile of all agave nectar verities.
- Stevia. Also known as “sugar leaf,” the stevia plant is a South American herb that supplies plant compounds, Reb-A and stevioside, that deliver up to 400X the sweetness of table sugar. Stevia is acclaimed for being a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that may be an ideal choice for people on weight management programs or who are avoiding synthetic sweeteners. Stevia’s sweetness is complemented by flavor notes of mild licorice; for some it brings a “cooling” sensation on the tongue. Stevia supplements are available in powder and liquid form. Some liquid varieties may be enhanced with natural flavorings such as vanilla or toffee.
- Xylitol. This naturally derived sugar alcohol is known for delivering sweet taste while promoting healthy teeth and gums. With these attributes, along with its anti-bacterial properties and minty flavor notes, xylitol is an ideal sweetener for use in chewing gums, candies and toothpastes. Xylitol has about one-third of the calories of table sugar, and features a low glycemic index rating of 7. It may be substituted for sugar in baking and culinary applications.
- Honey. Produced by bees, this thick golden liquid is between 70 and 80 percent sugar, delivering sweetness along with variable flavor profiles depending on the region of production. Like table sugar, honey has a relatively high glycemic index of 62. However, honey is distinct in that it supplies a diverse array of health-promoting nutrients, including amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, proteins and antioxidant polyphenols. The substance is highly regarded for its antimicrobial properties. Popular varieties of honey include wildflower and tupelo. Manuka honey, a dark variety originating in New Zealand, is another popular form that has gained acclaim for its high concentrations of an active compound called methylglyoxal (MGO). Manuka honey has a dark color and unique taste that mingles sweetness, earthiness and bitterness.
- Yacon Syrup. Made from a root vegetable with cultural significance to South American tribes, yacon syrup delivers sweetness along with a rich flavor profile reminiscent of molasses, caramel and honey. Yacon features antioxidants, antimicrobials and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are prebiotic compounds that support the health of friendly flora colonies in the digestive tract. With its prebiotic and fiber content (in the form of inulin), yacon may help to support overall digestive wellness as it delivers its signature sweet taste. Its impact on blood sugar levels is negligible due to its low glycemic index.
- Maple Syrup. This familiar sweetener is produced by tapping maple trees, collecting their sap, and then boiling it down to a concentrated, viscous liquid. It takes ten gallons of maple sap to produce one quart of syrup. The syrup is then graded depending on its color. Light-colored syrup has a milder maple taste, which gets richer, deeper more robust as the syrup gets darker. Its high fructose content yields a glycemic index rating of about 50. Maple syrup supplies zinc, amino acids and manganese among other nutritional compounds. Famous as a topping for pancakes and waffles, maple syrup is also used in candies, condiments, marinades, barbecue sauces, roasted nuts and more.
Natural Sweeteners & Flavors Products
Sweeteners & flavors appear in powder, crystal and liquid products. These products may be presented in organic form, and may be combined to create flavored sweeteners for culinary applications. Some sweeteners may be packaged in convenient packets for single-serve use.