Though companies have come up with various sugar substitutes over time, none have overthrown the king (and those substitutes might create their own problems). If you can’t beat ’em, you may as well use science to get down on the molecular level and join ’em.
Companies around the world are using various techniques not to replace sugar, but to change the way the substance is made or processed in the hopes of creating a better type of sugar. One that can be incorporated into the products we know, love, and crave, but doesn’t require as much of the sweet stuff.
Quartz has a story out today on DouxMatok, an Israeli startup that is combining sugar with food-grade silica to create a “sweeter sugar.” Evidently, sugar isn’t very good at hitting our taste buds, so food makers cram products full of it to attain their desired level of sweetness. A straightforward reduction in the amount of sugar in a product, then, is difficult to do without sacrificing taste.
DouxMatok gets around this by leveraging silica, which has lots of nooks and crannies that sugar molecules can fill. The sugar-packed silica diffuses more efficiently on our tongues, so food companies can use 40 percent less sugar in their products, without sacrificing the taste. The Quartz piece included a metaphor to help explain:
“Imagine 100 people in a house, each one holding a spoonful of sugar. If you ask them to go from room to room and then deposit the sugar into a jar, some will inevitably drop and spill sugar along the way. This is essentially what happens when you bite into a slice of normal cake. Now imagine one person in the house holding a sealed plastic bag containing the same amount of sugar. They’ll likely get to the jar without spilling any of it. The silica DouxMatok uses operates like the plastic bag.”
The startup just announced a partnership with European sugar company, Südzucker, to manufacture and commercialize Doxmatok’s sugar reduction process.
But Douxmatok isn’t the only company noodling with sugar molecules. Earlier this year, Nestlé unveiled a new sugar reduction technology of its own. They created a process of spraying sugar, powdered milk and water into hot air, which made the sugar develop microscopic holes. When this hole-y sugar hits your tongue, it still tastes as sweet — but all the holes means there’s less of it.
Nestlé debuted the new sugar structure in the Milkybar Wowsome (only available in Europe), which had 30 percent less sugar than comparable bars. The company said back in March that if it catches on (read: fools people well enough), the company will expand the technology into more chocolate brands.
Nutrition Innovation, on the other hand, is taking less of an atomic approach when making its traditional sugar replacement: Nucane. Instead, the company applies near-infrared scanning to raw sugar cane coming into a mill to alter the processing of it (crushing, washing, drying, etc.).
The result of these altered processing techniques is Nucane, which keeps minerals like calcium and potassium, which occur naturally in sugar, but has a lower glycemic index than traditional white refined sugar. Nutrition Innovation says Nucane provides more sustained energy after consumption compared to a sugar spike. Bonus: it can be swapped into existing recipes 1 for 1.
Nutrition Innovation entered into an agreement with Australia’s Sunshine Sugar to sell its Nucane to industrial sugar buyers, and the product is currently being tested by different companies around the world.
Ideally, these new scientific approaches to sugar will live up to their promises and spur even more innovation and investment. If we’re able to enjoy all the sweets with less sugar, the result would be pretty sweet.