Sugar-Reduced Baked Products

Originally Published: April 3, 2019
Last Updated: February 4, 2021

HOW DOES ONE DEVELOP SUGAR-REDUCED baked products when the content of these products is defined by their sugar content? Melanie Goulson, MSc, General Manager, Merlin Development and Adjunct Professor, St. Catherine University, provided some potential solutions to this dilemma in her presentation, “Five Tips for Reducing Sugars in Bars and Baked Goods.” Goulson began by noting that the chocolate-chip cookie, an American bakery icon, contains 11g of sugar per 33g serving. “We can see that baked products and cereal and protein bars that we know and love generally consist of about one-third sugar. Endeavoring to replace that sugar represents a monumental task.”

Monumental, perhaps, but for the baking industry, such a task may be a defensive necessity. The challenge is that sugar contributes not just sweetness, but also bulking, functionality, yeast food, flavor, color, solubility, preservation, texture and viscosity to baked products. Then there are additional criteria to be met, such as meeting marketing goals regarding sugar-type content, clean labels and extended shelf life.

Goulson laid out a systematic approach to sugar reduction with five recommendations: The first is to “intimately familiarize oneself with the properties of all non-nutritive sweetener candidates.” These include bulking agents, such as erythritol, maltitol or allulose, typically used as a 1:1 replacement for sugar; and high-potency sweeteners, such as heat-stable sucralose or acesulfame-K and natural stevia or monk fruit-derived sweeteners, which are used at very low parts per million levels.

The second recommendation is to use sweetener blends. “Blending allows one to maximize sweetness, mitigate off-flavors; improve the temporal dynamics of sweet-taste perception; and leverage sweetness synergies.” Also, importantly, she strongly recommended that product developers “take every gram of sugar that you can get. If marketing is willing to accept one or two grams of sugar on the label, take it and run.” Even a very small amount of sucrose can speed up sweetness onset and round out the taste profile.

The third recommendation is to become intimately acquainted with all available bulking agents. Caloric bulking agents include maltodextrin, proteins, sucromalt and isomaltulose, for example. Low and no-calorie bulking agents may consist of sugar alcohols (e.g., maltitol and erythritol); fiber and fiber syrups (e.g., inulin, tapioca fiber); and resistant maltodextrin.

“In my own experience, I have observed very good results using chicory root fiber and erythritol for bulking (to achieve) 50%-or-greater sucrose reductions in cupcakes or cookies. A blend of inulin and erythritol combined with stevia glycosides can develop a nice, natural-label sugar replacement system.” Blends of polydextrose, acesulfame-k and sucralose can often be cost-effective, and sometimes, maltitol alone can be sufficient for bulking and sweetening in baked goods, “as long as browning is not a strict requirement,” Goulson added.
The fourth recommendation is to carefully manage texture, “which is critical to consumer acceptability,” explained Goulson.

Sugar plays many roles in texture. It can be important for aeration during mixing (cakes); for tenderization; and for controlling the rate of gluten formation. Other steps one can do to offset the textural impact of sugar reduction are to use flour with less protein; increase fat content (to prevent full gluten development); use emulsifiers (lecithin, egg yolk); reduce mixing; and manage moisture with soluble fiber, glycerol and other small molecular-weight ingredients.

As a fifth recommendation—regarding cereal and protein bars in particular, Goulson professed great satisfaction with using dietary fiber syrups, such as inulin, tapioca and corn syrups. She recommended paying close attention to the molecular chain lengths of the syrups and to be aware of potential digestive tolerance issues.

Can such products ever hope to meet consumer expectations? “It’s a steep challenge to replace 100% of the sugar in baked goods and bars and fully duplicate a full-sugar version,” Goulson replied. “But by using ingredient systems to replace all of the taste and functionality of sugar, you can make very good products.”

“Five Tips for Reducing Sugars in Bars and Baked Goods,” Melanie Goulson, MSc, General Manager, Merlin Development and Adjunct Professor, St. Catherine University

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to:

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