17 November 2017

Life Could Be Looking Sweeter For The Food Industry

The food industry is currently facing challenges from many angles, including catering to new consumer trends, which include the increased popularity of vegetarianism, veganism, and the desire for greater availability of “free from” foods, in addition to meeting the requirements of new government guidelines relating to consumer health.

For example, Public Health England (PHE) has published new guidelines regarding sugar reduction in the food industry, aiming at reducing the amount of sugar in children’s food by 20% by 2020, with a 5% reduction in the first year. This presents a significant challenge for those in the food industry to comply with these guidelines whilst meeting consumer expectations relating to taste, colour and texture.

One organisation taking this challenge head-on is Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS), a UK soft drinks manufacturer, which has announced that it aims to reduce the sugar content of all of its existing and new beverages to less than 4.5g per 100 ml (compared to previous 10 to 11g per 100 ml). To date LRS has managed to remove a staggering 25,500 tons of sugar and 98 billion calories from the company’s annual drinks production and states that this dramatic change has not affected the taste of the soft drinks produced.

So how are manufacturers meeting these new government lead and consumer driven targets?

One main method of lowering sugars in food is to replace at least some of the sugar present with sweeteners. However, the incorporation of higher amounts of sweeteners can lead to the presence of an off-taste/bitter taste. It is known that the presence of artificial sweeteners within food products not only stimulates the human sweet taste receptors but also activates bitter taste receptors (TAS2Rs), causing this unpleasant “off-taste”. In order to overcome this disadvantage, the food industry has often turned to the use of a combination of sweeteners. Combinations of saccharin and cyclamate are known to produce higher sweetness levels with reduced bitter off-taste, however, the reasons as to why this effect is achieved by this specific combination were unknown, leaving those in the food industry to resort to a trial and error approach when formulating new/and or improved combinations of sweeteners. 

Research by Behrens et al. has now shown that the combination of non-caloric sweetener cyclamate inhibits the two bitter taste receptors, TAS2R31 and TAS2R43, stimulated by saccharin and, in turn, saccharin suppresses the response of the human bitter taste receptor, TAS2R1, to cyclamate. Thus, it is this mutual suppression of bitter taste receptors which leads to the “higher sweetness levels with reduced bitter off-taste” observed.

Furthermore, the results of Behrens et al. indicate that “mixtures of two or more bitter compounds could exhibit lower overall bitterness as a result of inhibition between the substances”.

Whilst the current challenges faced by those in the food industry may have once seemed insurmountable, it is clear that current research, such as that discussed above, is helping to provide new insights into the issues faced. This can, in turn, lead the way to new and inventive methods of tackling these challenges. However, in a competitive industry where the total consumer expenditure on food, drink at catering in 2016 was around £206 billion, it is more vital than ever for companies to protect their innovations to prevent the possibility of reducing their market share.

In Mathys & Squire, our specialist food technology team works with clients to help identify, protect and commercialise their food intellectual property (IP), whether through identifying relevant chemical compounds in new food products, how food is manufactured or through packaging design and processes.

To find out more on how the Mathys & Squire’s food technology team can help your business, contact Laura Clews on [email protected] 

For further information regarding the research by Behrens et al. please see the following article.