“Sweets” for the Sweet at Heart

Americans consume approximately 24 pounds of candy per year, a good portion of which is consumed in celebration of Valentine’s Day. This tangible expression, one being “sweet” on another, comes with a price: calories.  Ever since the day saccharin (saccharum is Latin for sugar) was accidentally discovered in 1879, the need for low-calorie, non-nutritive, artificial sweeteners has been a quest for consumers and food chemists alike. But how does one define sweeteners and what is available?  Given the season for sweets, it seems to be a good time to briefly discuss the current constellation of both nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, and what lies on the horizon.

With this wide spectrum of traditional sugars, sugar-derived novel molecules, amino acid compounds, chemically-reacted synthetics and quite innovative exotic plant-based extractives, the future has never looked sweeter. Future expressions of love shared on Valentine’s Day may include these permutations, thus, offering varied levels of sweetness and caloric intake proportionate to your “sweetie”!

Common Caloric Sweeteners

  1. Glucose (dextrose) found in honey and fruits

  2. Fructose (fruit sugar) vegetables such as corn

  3. Sucrose (disaccharide) coming from sugar cane and sugar beets and the most common sugar derived from plants

  4. Honey (fructose and glucose)

Less-common Caloric Sweeteners

  1. Inulin (a plant carbohydrate)

  2. Tagatose (primarily dairy derived)

  3. Trehalose (from plants and seafood)

  4. Rice syrup

  5. Barley malt

  6. Molasses

These are all less sweet than sucrose, have fewer calories per gram and for the most part do not promote tooth decay or glucose-insulin spikes, but like low caloric sugar alcohols one side effect sometimes found with high consumption is increased intestinal discomfort

Low-caloric Sugar Alcohols 

  1. Sorbitol

  2. Xylitol

  3. Mannitol

  4. Lactitol

  5. Maltitol

  6. Erythritol

  7. Isolmalt

As above, these are all less sweet and much lower in calories per gram than traditional sweeteners; they are useful for diabetics and to prevent dental caries.  This trade-off comes with a price however, in the potential for intestinal fermentation, gas production and with high doses, laxation.

Current Low (or No-) Caloric Sweeteners:

  1. Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)

  2. Aspartame (Equal)

  3. Acesulfame potassium (Sunetteâ)

  4. Sucralose (Splendaâ)

  5. Neotameâ

Intensely sweet, but some with stability, bulking and/or after-taste issues, although no fermentation or gastrointestinal complications.

Pending (FDA) Low (or No-) Caloric Sweeteners

  1. Alitame

  2. Cyclamate (re-introduction)

Future Low Caloric Sweeteners

  1. Stevia (stevioside)

  2. Lo Han Quo (mogroside)

  3. Glycyrrhizin (licorice root)

  4. Thaumatin

  5. Brazzein

  6. Dihydrochalcones

Many are from exotic (i.e., non-traditional) plants from South America, Africa and China and, if (when) sufficient safety data and consumption estimates have been developed they may enter the US food supply.

With this wide spectrum of traditional sugars, sugar-derived novel molecules, amino acid combinations, chemically-reacted synthetics and quite innovative exotic plant-based extractives, the future has never looked sweeter.  One suspects that in the not-too-distant-future, that box of Valentine’s Day candy may be available in a number of permutations dependent upon the sweetness and caloric intake desired!