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How to Cut the Calories but Keep the Taste for Dairy Flavors?

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A recent report has highlighted the various ways to create dairy products with less sugar content without compromising taste.

"Understanding current sugar-reduction techniques, research and consumer response to sugar reduction in dairy products is important for dairy manufacturers in order to design and produce sugar-reduced products," said MaryAnne Drake, Ph.D., William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University and lead investigator of the Journal of Dairy Science study. "Sugar reduction is an inherently difficult task due to the many functions of sugar in food products, but progress is being made in developing products acceptable to consumers."

Global Dairy Market

Grossing over $125 billion annually in sales, according to an IDFA report, the dairy market has been experiencing many of the changes that other food and flavor markets been having - largely consumers wanting products that are healthier and with fewer calories. To discuss the benefits and obstacles of creating dairy flavors with fewer sugars, a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science examined methods to reduce sugar in dairy products without impacting its taste.

Traditional ice creams, yogurts and flavored milks are all potentially high in added sugars. Some methods for reducing include food matrix texture manipulation, hydrolysis of lactose, using alternative sweeteners, ultrafiltration and direct sugar reduction.  

"Dairy foods represent a large market," said Drake. "The dilemma of how to reduce sugar content without sacrificing flavor and negatively affecting product sales is challenging, as sugar plays an important role in dairy foods, not only in flavor, but also in texture, color, and viscosity. Replacing sugar can have negative effects, making substitution inherently difficult.

Ice Cream Cuts the Sugar

One of the most heavily consumed dairy products worldwide, ice cream receives its sweetness largely through added sugar, which can represent anywhere from 10-14% of the total product. Studies have shown by directly reducing sugar and fat of ice cream that it can cause a bitter aftertaste and lower creaminess intensity. Some of the methods, the report recommends for creating low-sugar dairy flavors includes:

  • Ice creams formulated with sorbitol and sucralose provides lower calories without some of the typical difficulties of simple sugar reduction.
  • Sugar alcohols like erythritol and lactitol can be used to create low-calorie ice cream. Providing both volume and texture, erythritol is commonly used in sugar reduction and is lower in calories than sucrose.
  • Though seen in a healthier light, frozen yogurts typically have the same sugar content as regular ice cream. By substituting inulin and isomalt for sugar and fat, frozen yogurt can lead to similar sweetness levels and less fat from sugars.
  • For chocolate-flavored ice cream, standard sugar reduction can create bitter tasting effects and reduce the chocolate flavor. One study recommends simply marketing this type of ice cream as for dark chocolate lovers, as they would be more accustom to the bitter taste.

Yogurt A Go-Go

Though seen as healthy for its nutritional content, yogurt tends to include added sugar for sweetness and palatability. Other reports have indicated the liking of yogurt is largely due to its texture, aroma, taste and sweetness. Some methods for reducing sugars in yogurt flavors include:

  • A probiotic yogurt using sweeteners without impacting the probiotic microorganisms. As the sweeteners did not break down over time, it didn’t attribute a negative impact to the yogurt making process.
  • Nonnutritive sweetener blends

Chocolate is King of Flavored Milks

One of the most popular flavors of milk, chocolate, also tends to come with a higher sugar content and is a frequent target for sugar reduction. Research in reducing the sugar calories from chocolate milk have yielded some contradictory results:

  • Per consumers, parents preferred natural nonnutritive sweeteners over nutritive sweeteners as the sweetener source in chocolate milk.
  • Some studies found that direct sugar reduction is acceptable to children and adults, as long as it doesn’t exceed 30%.