Talking to BeverageDaily.com, the industry source (who declined to be named) who works for a beverage development company, said that Stevia Rebaudioside-A >98% “is great and the best natural sweetener hands down”.
Combining it with xylitol of erythritol smoothed-out the slightly bitter taste, he added, noting that “those familiar with its characteristics are savvy enough to know ways to improve upon its sweetness and mask its off notes”.
“For example, using malic acid instead of citric acid in some instances, while natural emulsifiers like lecithin can improve mouth feel, which can enhance stevia’s taste,” he said. “Flavor obviously plays a role as well, such as slight masking with vanilla.”
But aside from stevia products used as food additives, such as Cargill’s Truvia tabletop brand, the source said: “I don’t think Stevia in finished beverages was as successful as everyone had expected, at least in main store brands like Kroger’s and Wal-Mart.”
Natural sweeteners still stymied by aftertaste issues
“However, stevia-finished beverages have been a success in wholefood chains and other more natural outlets. Natural food markets needed a sweetener that was zero-calorie, and this was the only one with an acceptable taste,” he added.
Mintel global food science analyst, Laura Jones told BeverageDaily.com that 61% of consumers considered ‘all natural’ an important purchase driver for foods and beverages.
“But the most important thing is obviously the taste, so having no unpleasant taste or aftertaste is important to 83% of consumers. That’s the area that natural sweeteners struggle with.”
Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo) has been touted as an alternative natural sweetener to stevia, and the source said he had worked on an extraction process for it in the past. “It was sweet but had a weird aftertaste.”
Turning to non-natural HI sweeteners, the industry source said: “Just as stevia is the best-tasting natural sweetener, sucralose is the best-performing artificial sweetener.
“Aspartame and Ace-K still have a slight off note, and actually sucralose does a bit too, reminds me of a cotton candy aftertaste,” he added.
‘Amazing how sucralose can act as a sweetener’
“But it is amazing how sucralose can act as a sweetener, and is probably the best masking agent around. We have used sucralose to mask the most bitter flavor and it truly is remarkable.”
As for aspartame – in an associated article today we cover leading supplier Ajinomoto’s bid to restore profitability to its aspartame business, which has been hit by Chinese rival oversupply – the source said that several years ago he spoke to a sweeteners expert at a beverage multinational.
Asked by our source which artificial sweetener he believed was best, the expert replied aspartame.
“It made sense too because aspartame is a di-peptide of natural amino acids, L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine and can be broken down,” the source said.
“There is controversy, as with all artificial sweeteners, regarding the methyl ester and when or if it produces methanol byproduct in the body, as well as other arguments,” he added.
“Because it is a naturally derived di-peptide, it really is most similar to food.”