The development and growth of natural sweeteners such as agave, yacon and stevia has been driven by concerns over rising levels of obesity and diabetes and also with sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. Researchers in LWT – Food Science and Technology recently indicated that alternative sweeteners sucralose, aspartame and stevia provide challenges for the bakery and baked goods industry as a replacement for sugar due to issues relating to bulking and flavor profiles.

Despite the European Union's approval for the use of natural sweetener and sugar substitute Steviol glycosides in November 2011, and the development of new stevia sweeteners, its potential may not be realised due to growing concerns in 2012 over its limitations as a natural sweetener and its bitter after taste. A contentious issue in the EU is that Stevia (Rebiana A) is described as natural but is extracted using ethanol.

Steviol glycosides (stevia) was authorised by the EU at appropriate levels for 31 different food categories including beverages, soft drinks, desserts, chocolate, confectionary and table top sweeteners, but was withheld in 15 food groups such as biscuits, baked goods and cereal based desserts over concerns about Acceptable Daily Intake levels for stevia. The ADI was established at 4mg/kg body weight a day. Datamonitor research shows that snacks made up 38.5% of new stevia-sweetened products between 2005 and 2009. At a recent Bakery Formulation 2012 virtual conference, Datamonitor innovation director Tom Vierhile discussed issues in the use of stevia in baked goods and snacks.

Mr Vierhile’s view was that the nutrient and attribute profile of sweeteners such as coconut palm sugar or monk fruit may make these more suitable in bakery and snack foods than stevia, due to the limitations of stevia in baked goods, as it may not be heat tolerant and may gel at high temperatures. Stevia also does not have the bulking attributes of sugar and needs to be combined with a bulking agent.

Several alternative sweetener companies are now combining monk fruit (luo han guo) with Erythritol, a non-calorie sugar alcohol or stevia and say this gets rid of bitter after taste, while monk fruit sweeteners are gaining markets in the U.S.

Stevia in The Raw®, an all-natural, “zero calorie” sweetener made by Cumberland Packing Corp, has enjoyed a 57% sales increase in the U.S. in 2011 to become the second best-selling stevia brand on the market after SweetLeaf Stevia® from Wisdom Natural Brands™. Stevia in The Raw’s best seller was its Bakers Bag, which is used in cooking and baking. The company has also launched Agave in The Raw® and its range includes Sugar in The Raw®.

Zero-calorie steviol glycosides, which are between 40 and 300 times sweeter than sucrose, are derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is also known as sugarleaf. It is native to Paraguay and is grown in Brazil and South American countries. Stevia also grows now in China.