Clean Label Sweetness Modulators

Originally Published: October 30, 2020
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
A basket filled with apples, kiwi and beverages made from these fruits.

SWEETNESS MODULATORS are ingredients that make high-potency sweeteners (HPS) taste more like sugar by fixing some of the flavor-quality issues associated with these ingredients, explained Alex Woo, Ph.D., and CEO of W2O Food Innovation. Woo’s presentation, “Recent Research on Clean Label Sweetness Modulators,” had been scheduled for the 2020 Sweetener Systems Conference.

The first challenge with HPS is the time-intensity curve. Sugar is highly water-soluble and migrates quickly in saliva from a beverage to the sweetness receptors on the tongue—giving a fast onset of sweetness perception. Sucrose delivers a high sweetness peak and has no taste linger. In contrast, HPS are less water-soluble and migrate slowly from beverage to receptor, thus delivering a slow onset. HPS are also more hydrophobic and, thus, stick to hydrophobic mouth proteins, providing a lingering taste perception, Woo explained. Various sweetness modulators will shorten the onset; increase the peak; and reduce or eliminate the linger.

The second issue is the taste profile. Stevia Reb A has a maximum sweetness equivalence of about 8% sugar. Below 200-300ppm, it delivers a sweet taste profile; however, it becomes sweet and bitter above 300ppm.

The third challenge is mouthfeel. In beverage applications, HPS impart thin, astringent and metallic properties. Sweetness modulators use six different mechanisms to make HPS taste more like sugar in beverages. Woo addressed four of these mechanisms.

The best modulators to shorten HPS sweetness onset are glucosyl steviol glycosides (GSG), erythritol and allulose, suggested Woo. The traditional GSG starts from farm-based stevia extract that is enzymatically modified.

GSG FEMA 4728 is an example of Flavorings with Modifying Properties (FMP), which are classified and regulated as sweeteners but can be labeled as “natural flavor” when used below the FEMA beverage limit of 175ppm. All FMP must be demonstrated to FEMA to be less sweet than 1.5% sucrose and contribute to sweetness and flavor enhancement. Examples also include erythritol and allulose.

A smell is perceived in the brain when an aroma chemical binds to at least one of the 400 smell receptors in the nose. Congruent flavors create an interaction between taste and smell when we drink. The best examples are molasses distillate or sugar distillate. Adding 100ppm of these “sugary smells” in beverages formulated with stevia or monk fruit increases sugar equivalence by 1-2%. Bitterness blockers reduce bitterness; thus, the perceived sweetness goes up. Woo offered that the best three to use in combination with stevia extracts are narigenin, sodium gluconate and mushroom mycelia extract.

PAM stands for Positive Allosteric Modulator. A PAM binds to the sweetness receptor in locations next to the sweetener and in- crease binding efficacy and, thus, sweetness enhancement. There are very few found in nature, but two exceptions are a patented FEMA GRAS compound and, maybe, phloretin.

Sweet linger is caused by the non-specific binding of the hydrophobic HPS to the hydrophobic protein in the mouth interior. It can be reduced by osmolytes and other ingredients. Osmolytes are low molecular-weight compounds that can shock and shrink the protein, releasing the bound HPS back into the saliva faster and preventing them from being tasted “a little at a time over longer time,” said Woo. One example is 0.01% table salt.

Erythritol shortens sweetness onset, increases peak, and re- duces linger. Malic acid is useful to reduce linger in apple and pear flavors, while lactic acid works well in dairy applications. Three other ingredients that reduce linger are soluble corn fiber, a special essential oil extract (stevia masker NA10022), and a specific high-peptide yeast extract.

Hydrocolloids bind water and increase viscosity. This viscosity equates to “mouthfeel” in food science and “touch” in neuroscience. Ingredients that may be useful in delivering mouthfeel include: stevioside (when used below 35ppm), glucosylated stevia extract and Reb E (when used below FEMA limit), Woo said.

Sweetness modulators grew up with plant-based sweeteners, and the best clean label ones are based on taste and smell neuroscience and ingredient technologies. Most can be labeled as “natural flavor.” It’s increasingly possible to make stevia and monk fruit taste more like sugar by adding these contemporary clean label sweetness modulators.

“Recent Research on Clean Label Sweetness Modulators,” Alex Woo, Ph.D., and CEO of W2O Food Innovation

This presentation was given at the 2020 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to:

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