Long-fibre prebiotics show promising sweetness, say scientists

© iStock/YelenaYemchuk

How to keep things sweet without adding calories – is it a Holy Grail or could UK scientists have found a solution thanks to long-fibre prebiotics?

Results from a human taste study carried out by the Flavour and Sensory Science Centre at the University of Reading suggest that naturally sweet prebiotic fibres could replace high-calorie sugars in food and drink products.

The human gut is unable to digest the long-fibre prebiotics, so while they taste sweet, they are calorie-free.

The researchers used a panel of 10 experienced experts to test the sweetness of six customised prebiotic sweeteners derived from several high-intensity sweeteners.

The customised oligosaccharides (carbohydrates which have between three and 10 simple sugars linked together) demonstrated sweetness of “between 140 times and 223 times the sweetness of an equivalent concentration of sugar”, the experts found.

“This means that a far lower concentration of the oligosaccharides would be required to achieve the same level of sweetness as sugar,” they noted.

In addition, some of the oligosaccharides were derived from stevia, the sweetener known for its bitter aftertaste. The team found a “large reduction” in bitterness without any effect on sweetness. Others have claimed similar successes involving prebiotic fibre-based sweeteners.

Previous human taste studies have confirmed the safety and sweetness of the prebiotic sweeteners, noted OptiBiotix, the life science business behind the new products.

Public and political concerns over traditional sugars and artificial sweeteners has grown in recent years, however. The abolition of the EU’s sugar quota in October could also bring some “unpleasant surprises” for the bloc’s food and drink industry, according to Rabobank. Firms have been urged to “consider long-term contracts or alternative sweeteners”.

The new test results involving the long-fibre prebiotics are therefore encouraging, suggested OptiBiotix CEO Stephen O’Hara. “[They] open up opportunities for the development of a range of natural, sweet prebiotic fibres which can be used to replace sugar in food and beverages,” he said.

In 2016 the global market for food sweeteners was valued at €74 billion ($85 billion), by Mordor Intelligence. The analysts forecast a CAGR of 4.5%, with the market set to reach nearly €97 billion ($112 billion) by 2022. Europe is one of the regions “exhibiting a promising growth for the market”, Mordor concluded.

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