Honey as one of the earliest sweeteners was commonly used in some countries like China and Greece. Sugar cane then became popular from which saccharose was extracted and widely consumed as a regular sugar.
A food additive with similar characteristics to sugar with respect to the flavour, is characterised as a sugar substitute. It is either natural or synthetic. The latter is usually known as artificial sweetener. It provides insignificant calorie after the ingestion and due to its intense sweet flavour, only a small fraction is sufficient to be used for the sweetening purpose. These low calorie sweeteners have no nutrition value and sometimes classified as non-nutritive sweeteners.
Natural sugar substitutes comprise sorbitol and xylitol. They are present in berries, fruits and vegetables which are obtained by catalytic hydrogenation of reducing sugar. Synthetic sugar substitutes mostly involve chemical compounds which are artificially synthesised.
The following are the most commonly used sugar substitutes approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Saccharin is the first recorded artificial sweetener (synthesised by Remsen and Fahlberg). It is extremely sweet and it has little solubility in water. Usually, Its calcium and sodium salt are used in the industry.
Saccharin has a bitter aftertaste. Any alteration to its physical structure may lead to the irreparable change of its taste to the extent that it does not taste sweet anymore and depending on the receptors of the taste buds it may unpleasantly taste unusual.
Cyclamate was developed with a great success with respect to the taste, by offering more desirable taste of sweetness (compared to saccharin). It is produced in different forms including tablet and liquids. For example, it is now widely used as a sweetening agent for soft drinks. It is suitably recommended for baking or cooking due to its heat stability.
Aspartame was first explored by James M. Schlatter in 1965 and officially permitted (by FDA) in 1981 for sale and consumption in dietary foods. It is around 200 times sweeter than table sugar. It has many industrial uses including “NutraSweet” products in addition to the dairy foods like fruity yoghurts (which is developed to provide lower percentage of calorie and labeled as ‘light’ or ‘diet’ on the packages). Aspartame is prone to be hydrolised and decomposed into amino acids as a result of the increased pH or temperature modifications which will make it unsuitable to be used in cookings or in high pH food products.
Another susceptibility of aspartame in some food products like powdered beverages is that it is liable to the Maillard reaction; amino acids and reducing sugar (aldehyde) are chemically reacted and develop off-flavour. It can be avoided by converting aldehyde groups into acetals.
Acesulfame potassium (ace-K)
The mixture of ace-K and aspartame was a successful formula in terms of the acceptable sweet taste (aspartame itself cannot provide a realistic sweet taste like table sugar). It has a prolonged threshold and penetration taste buds.
This non-calorie sugar substitute is relatively 600 times sweeter than sucrose. It is most suitable in baking or in long life products as it remains unchanged in a wider range of pH and it has heat stability. Sucralose production has provided satisfaction for both customers and manufacturers in relation to the flavour, chemical properties and safety. Only a small concentration is required to be used for sweetening products. It is usually blended with dextrose (glucose) and maltodextrin to provide sufficient sweet taste with granular texture like table sugar. Sucralose is found in some commercial sweeteners including “Splenda” and “SucraPlus”.
Neotame is produced by “NutraSweet” company. It is intensely sweet; between 7000 and 13000 times as sweet as sucrose. It has high heat stability and quick metabolising characteristic. After the ingestion, neotame is expelled via the urine without any residue remained inside the body.
Neotame can offer advantages to manufacturers including less production cost, mainly due to the using small quantity of this compound in proportion to sugar and fructose corn syrup to gain optimum sweet taste. It has chemical properties like aspartame but it has more stability plus the advantage that extremely less amount of neotame is needed for equal sweet taste achievement.
Further, it is quite harmless for those who suffer from phenylketonuria due to its effects on decreasing the phenylalanine production during the chemical process. Food and Drug Administration has permitted the use of this chemical agent since 2002.