Erythritol is a polyol (sugar alcohol) that occurs in low levels in fruits and fermented foods, and its benefits as a sucrose replacer in foods include its zero-calorie content, zero GI level and low laxative effect.
European marketing manager for Cargill Sweetness Henry Hussell told FoodNavigator.com that increased US stevia sales were “driving interest in erythritol amongst consumers and as a natural sweetener in its own right”.
Hussell’s comments reflect strong US sales for Cargill’s stevia rebaudiana-based tabletop sweetener Truvia – due to launch in France in Q1 of 2011 – which uses the firm’s branded erythritol Zerose as a bulk carrier.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based O’Laughlin Industries has launched a new erythritol product “to meet increasing demand for erythritol as a blending product with stevia”, where the firm’s clients mix it with other polyols, sugars and flavours.
Cargill says that Zerose provides a “sugar-like taste and mouth feel” of sucrose; however, erythritol in general provides only around 70 per cent of its sweetness.
Zerose takes off
Thus Hussell stresses that Cargill’s “sales focus is upon Truvia as its zero-calorie, natural tabletop product” but says Zerose is “especially useful as a bulking agent, with a good taste profile and a rounding effect upon taste”.
He agrees that this taste profile also enables Cargill to ameliorate the slight bitterness associated with steviol glycoside Rebaudioside A (Reb A), the stevia extract that Truvia contains.
Despite the conjunction with stevia, which is boosting US sales, Hussel said the EU’s acceptance of erythritol’s zero-calorie status in late 2008 really spurred European uptake of the sweetener in its own right.
He said:“The ingredient has been around for some time [it gained EU novel foods approval in 2006] but it’s really only once the ink is on the statue that the industry wants to take it forward."
In a November 2008 interview with this site, Hussell predicted inroads for Zerose amidst dairy and confectionery, although when cutting calories in chocolate, for instance, formulation challenges mean Cargill cannot replace sugar with Zerose like-for-like, but also uses maltitol and fibre.
Reflecting on these areas, Hussell said: “We did a lot of work on chocolate in the early days, and we’ve achieved a good formulation with 30 per cent less calories than usual,” where the EU health claim regulation demands a 30 per cent cut in calories for food producers to make low calorie claims.
Non-naughty and nice
“We think this is an area where there is great potential given consumer demand," he adds. "But in chocolate brand positioning is key [for producers], so we’re yet to see if it really develops.”
As for other products: “Candies could be a big beneficiary because we’ve produced an initial product with 90 per cent fewer calories than normal, specifically in a lozenge form.
There’s also enormous potential in boiled sweets, but we need to undertake more work in this area; Zerose is already in many high-end chewing gums though.”
“Dairy is showing great promise as well, where we can produce some really good quality low-calorie yoghurts."
One major issue with using polyols as sweeteners is digestive intolerance, and although this isn’t an issue for erythritol, which is tolerated as well as lactose in milk, the EU currently prohibits the use of polyols in beverages wholesale.
Hussell says Cargill “are working on…[this issue]…although it’s difficult to say when precisely the ban might be lifted. It’s probably at least a couple of years off.”