Ibrahim Belo Written by Ibrahim Belo

Sugar in medicated confectionary and health supplements

As is the case with most pharmaceutical products, sugar plays a vital role in the manufacturing process of medicated confectionary and health supplements. From improving the taste of medicinal syrups to extending the shelf-life of vitamin tablets, sugar is crucial to adding flavour, texture and preservative qualities

What do these products do? 

Medicated confectionary is a medicinal product used to treat very minor ailments such as coughs, colds, sore throats, and allergies. Typically, these are sold in the form of a hard-boiled sweet, lozenge, syrup or gum containing a formulation of medicine, sweetening agents and added vitamins and/or minerals.

Though within a similar industry, medicated confectionary differs from health supplements in their objective. While throat lozenges and cough syrups are designed to alleviate the symptoms of mild illness, health supplements such as vitamin and mineral tablets are intended to provide the body additional nutritional elements. This could vary from tablets that supplement the intake of someone on a restricted diet, to products that claim to strengthen the immune system. Many of these products – like medicated confectionary – are widely available in high-street stores and can be bought at the counter without a prescription.

Market trends: the impact of the pandemic on demand 

The last few years have seen mass change in the pharmaceutical industry. The tumultuous situation regarding public health and the ever-changing nature of consumer demand has meant manufactuers of pharmaceutical products have had to respond rapidly to survive.

Despite the high-levels of COVID-19 infections in 2020, the first year of the pandemic saw medicated confectionery sales decline as social distancing and mask-wearing led to a diminished cold/ flu season. In Europe between 2019 and 2021, the number of respiratory product launches fell by 74%.

However, the last six months have seen further change to the market, with the global medicated confectionary industry predicted to grow at a rate of 3.8% between now and 2025. This is driven by an increased prevalence of coughs, colds, and sore throats since social distancing measures have lessened. Reports show that sales of medicated lozenges, cough suppressants, syrups, and over-the-counter pain relief medications have soared so high that many stores are currently facing short supply. There has also been an increase in sales of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements as concerns for health and immune strength continue.

woman in red scarf holds yellow cough sweet to eat

Throat lozenges help soothe symptoms of cold or flu.

Preventing crystallisation in cough drops and lozenges 

Sugar is a staple ingredient in over-the-counter remedies, both to aid taste and texture, as well as to increase the shelf-life of products. For medicated confectionary such as lozenges, glucose syrup is used to bind the mixture together and solidify the final product. By containing the active ingredient in a solid form, the product can slowly release minerals and medicine to ease congestion or soothe an irritated throat. This transparent syrup with a sweet taste and a neutral colour stabilises the other ingredients without interfering with the product’s overall taste and colour. Also, using glucose syrup – a liquid – reduces the risk of potentially damaging crystallisation and helps to ensure the right mouthfeel and texture of the final product. 

Balancing the bitter flavour of cough syrups 

Cough syrups have a variety of ingredients and formulas, but most contain a mix of vitamins and medicines to help ease throat irritations, coughs, and colds. Without a sweetening agent these syrups are often bitter and unpleasant to consume. However, black treacle is a good option for manufacturers looking to mask the bitter flavours of their products. The high molasses content of black treacle results in an intense, rounded flavour that balances the syrup’s medicinal ingredients. The molasses content in black treacle is also beneficial in the formulation of cough syrups as it contains a high level of nutrients and minerals such as iron and calcium.

Close-up view of man's hand pouring syrup in plastic spoon.

Cough syrups have added sugar to make more appealing to consumers.

Much like the role glucose syrup plays in lozenges, this product can also be found in cough syrups. Medicinal syrups often contain high amounts of sucrose, making them more likely to crystallise over time. By adding glucose syrup to the mixture, it acts as an anti-crystallising agent to increase the shelf-life of these products.

Sugar in vitamins, minerals, and other supplements 

Health supplements such as mineral tablets and multivitamins are available in a variety of forms from capsules to powders, and even as chewy pastilles. To achieve the sticky texture of chewable health supplements, glucose syrup is added to the mixture. The syrup’s high viscosity adds volume, and its humectant properties preserve moisture to improve the mouthfeel of the product. Chewy vitamins are particularly popular when manufacturing supplements for children. In this case, the light, sweet taste of glucose syrup also improves the flavour of the product, making them more appealing to their target consumer.

When manufacturing tablets and capsules, liquid sugar can be used to coat the final product. This protects the tablet from the damaging effects of air and moisture, making transportation and storage easier for manufacturers.

selection of vitamin and mineral tablets close up image with mint

Vitamin and mineral tablets use sugar to create a protective coating.

Adding partially inverted sugar syrup to pharmaceutical products also protects them and increases their shelf-life. Partially inverted sugar syrup is used as a preservative in foods, beverages, and other products because it prevents microbial growth by reducing the water activity in a product, primarily through osmosis, or dehydration. Deprived of this water, bacteria find it extremely difficult to multiply and then spoil products.

Versatility and efficiency of sugar syrups 

Using liquid solutions like black treacle, glucose syrup and liquid sugar in the production of medicated confectionary and supplements makes the manufacturing process more energy efficient and economical. Unlike using a crystalline, the sugar does not need to be dissolved into a liquid and then cooled.

At Ragus Pure Sugars each syrup produced is tested to the highest standards in our state-of-the-art factory to ensure quality and consistency to help you produce uniform products.

Ragus manufactures pure sugars for industry. To find out more about the versatile applications of sugar, visit our products page and contact a member of our customer services team (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.