Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Can syrups take the place of sugars in bakery?
With the Government targeting sugar as part of its drive to cut obesity, one option for bakers is to use pure sugar syrups to create sweetness in baked goods. Formulation changes such as these do have an impact on the taste, textures and other features of the final product. What is the impact of substituting pure sugar syrups in place of crystalline sugars?
As a manufacturer of pure sugars for industry, Ragus draws on knowledge gained from over 90 years of experience in the production of crystalline sugars, sugar syrups and treacles. Sugar syrups replacing the use of crystalline sugars in some baked goods and confectionary continues to generate debate, leading to common questions around how ingredients and recipes can change if essential ingredients are substituted.
The HFSS regulations are postponed – do I still need to reduce sugar?
The drive to reduce sugar consumption in the UK is far from new and is ongoing. There have been many public health initiatives aiming to reduce sugar intake from the average national diet in a bid to reduce the high levels of obesity experienced in the UK.
The Office for Health Improvement & Disparities (formerly known as Public Health England) is a government organisation that provides research, guidance, and regulation on health issues that affect the country. A part of the Department of Health and Social Care, it has been part of the drive to improve the health and wellbeing of the country – including its intake of sugars and confectionery goods.
Even though recent legislation concerning the promotion and sale of ‘HFSS’ (high fat, salt, sugar) foods has been pushed back until 2023, some proactive businesses have been updating recipes and ingredients formulations for some time in anticipation of changing regulations, which are ultimately driven by the developed world’s changing lifestyles.
Reducing sugars impacts more features than taste
The common perception of sugar as an ingredient is that it adds sweetness to baked goods, patisserie and confectionary. However, flavour is only one of the benefits of including sugars in recipes. For example, pure sugars as a functional ingredient provide texture, influence mouthfeel and act as a humectant.
That means reducing sugars or substituting crystalline sugars for sugar syrup can have a profound impact on the final product. Sugar syrups have higher levels of sweetness compared to crystalline sugars. This means the same level of sweetness can be achieved using less sugar by volume. But using pure sugar syrups instead of crystalline sugar will produce a food item that has marked differences in its moisture levels, appearance, crumb, and overall texture.
This poses a challenge to bakers; do they comply with efforts to reduce overall sugar content by using sugar syrups and risk altering their portfolio of baked goods, or do they stay true to their previous recipes to protect their business and the consistency of their products? For many businesses, their product lines are the result of expensive and in-depth research and product development. To adjust to pure sugar syrups instead of crystalline sugars requires, in many cases, a sustained and phased approach where new recipes are trialled on customers and brought to market. The risks of brand damage and loss of market share are high.
The ability of businesses to makes changes in response to an effort to improve public health will naturally vary; some companies will have the ‘luxury’ of being able to accommodate the risk of changing product lines, whereas other businesses – particularly smaller ones – will show understandable reluctance in changing recipes that work for them and – most importantly – their customers.
Potential benefits of using pure sugar syrups in baked goods
But when it comes to reducing the overall sugar content of baked goods, pure sugar syrups offer potential as they are sweeter and have other benefits. Depending on the exact type of sugar syrup used, they are around 40% sweeter than granulated sugar (sucrose). Because of this, less sugar syrup is needed in a given formulation. Syrups also perform the role of a binding agent, moisture attractant and flavour enhancer, as well as aiding and controlling colour development in baking.
Treacles, for example, can add a robust flavour, are a natural food colourant, and are high in minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Cane treacle is a popular choice among confectionery businesses and is prized for its ability to act as a natural food supplement that contributes to vitamin B6 daily requirements.
Another factor to consider is cost. Pure sugar syrups can cost more than crystalline sugars, although this is mitigated by the benefits. For example, sugar syrups are ready to mix and so reduce pre-mixing time, energy usage, and labour costs. Depending on volume and application, using sugar syrups can also reduce raw material volume held in stock, potentially providing an organisation with additional efficiency and cashflow benefits.
A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.
In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.