Reducing Sugar in Baked Products

Originally Published: September 4, 2018
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
Cookies with reduced sugar.

“I am just a simple baker,” began David Busken, Principal and Consultant with Bakery Development Ltd. Well, that’s understating it a bit: He’s a master commercial baker and the descendant of a long line of professional bakers.

Busken presented a list of sweeteners typically utilized in bakery goods development. Whereas American bakers traditionally worked with sucrose, honey, glucose (dextrose) or a range of hydrolyzed corn syrups, the field of sweetener ingredients has expanded considerably as consumer preferences have changed and enzyme technology has advanced.

Highest in sugar content on Busken’s list were the simple sugars and disaccharides, dried fructose and sucrose, each with 100% sugar content. Lower on the list were: molasses (67%); 42 Dextrose Equivalent (DE) corn syrup solids (27.5%), which consist primarily of dextrins and maltodextrins; and inulin (9.5%), a fructo-oligosaccharide. DE, a measure of reducing-sugar content, designates the degree of enzymatic hydrolysis to which a starch material has been subjected.

David Busken, Principal, Bakery Development Ltd., chart from his 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference presentation
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Fructo-oligosaccharides, which are relatively new as food ingredients, may contain moderate or high levels of fructose sugar, depending upon their degree of hydrolysis. Suppliers of inulin (a fructo-oligosaccharide) typically offer a range of hydrolysates, varying in sweetness and sugar content. Polyols, or sugar alcohols, contribute sweetness, low-caloric contents and texture control, without having to be labeled as sugars.

Newer entrants to the baker’s portfolio include low-calorie sugars, such as allulose. Allulose poses a conundrum, however: Though negligible in calories, it must still be labeled as a sugar.

Clean label considerations can also be a factor. For example, while a corn hydrolysate, such as 42 DE corn syrup, might be frowned upon by the clean label community, a 42 DE tapioca hydrolysate might be quite acceptable, despite having virtually identical sugar contents.

“So, how does one reduce sugar in a cookie (or biscuit from 28 to 22%, for example?” asked Busken. To make a soft cookie, one can use non-crystallizing reducing sugars, polyols and inulins. “To make a crisp cookie, I suggest a 42 DE corn syrup…once we bake out the moisture, it then becomes very hard.” He noted that this ingredient is used to make cookie inclusions for frozen ice creams or yogurt: Increasing 42 DE corn syrup levels to 8% allows them to remain crisp in frozen storage.

To take sugar out of a cookie requires that it be replaced with other ingredients. “For a high-quality cookie, you want to add more fat than flour, because it keeps it richer… ‘rich’ implying higher levels of fat, sugar or egg.” The richer the product formulation, the longer its shelflife! A heat-stable, high-intensity potency sweetener can be used to compensate for the reduction in sweetness, said Busken.

If “richness” is not a goal, Busken recommends replacing the sugar with flour and adding slightly more water to compensate for the added flour. This also increases protein content which, in turn, hardens a cookie’s texture. “To improve a cookie’s texture, or ‘bite,’ you will want to create a more open grain structure to compensate for hardness contributed by the added flour,” said Busken. Add more egg and more leavening. Or, find a pastry flour with lower protein content, but higher quality protein.

Cookie hardness is also managed by controlling water absorption and length of bake. This is especially important for soft cookies. Choice of sweeteners helps to control texture. Replacing sugar with a blend of HFCS and regular (42 DE) corn syrup works and contributes to a chewy texture. “An 80:20 blend of corn syrup and HFCS will also reduce or slow down fructose crystallization.” Low-calorie polyols and some inulins can also impair sugar crystallization and soften cookie textures.

For softer, rather than crisp cookies, whole grains work well as sugar replacers—while enhancing the Nutrition Facts panel appeal. They absorb water and break up the dough structure, while also contributing valuable nutrients. Busken recommended using whole oat flakes, rye flakes, buckwheat groats (“they add nice flavor and a whole-grain texture that people expect”), pulse flours (e.g., lentil flour) and flax meal, which contributes a nice flavor along with healthy omega-3 oils. However, “if using pulse flours, make sure that they have been heat-treated, in order to avoid beany aromas and flavors.”

“Reducing Sugar in Baked Goods: Practical Considerations & Possible Solutions,” David F. Busken, Principal, Bakery Development Ltd.,

This presentation was given at the 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to:

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