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Sugar and sweeteners: the original sin of big companies

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Sugar, what is it? What kind of business story does it have for a lifetime?


If you write a history of sugar, 2016 could be a watershed.


We all know that this sweet, white crystalline substance can cause dental caries and obesity. Obesity and diabetes have become health problems around the world:


China has the world's most prevalent diabetes epidemic, with about 11% of adults suffering from diabetes;

In recent years, diabetes in the United States has accounted for more than 10% of the total cost of medical treatment.


There are a lot of researchers as well as a popular book "anti sugar movement" has begun to connect the people love the natural sweet sugar agent with heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and cancer daunting.


What is more, last autumn have found that sugar industry was in 1960s to Harvard University scientists bribery, let them deliberately weakening candy for coronary artery disease promoting function, instead of the saturated fat as a scapegoat - a move that has affected the research direction of nutrition today.


The original sin of big companies and academic circles


In the eyes of the public, "sugar is another kind of tobacco."." Market research company Mintel, a global food and beverage industry analyst David Turner said.


After the scandal was revealed, a public health war came into being. Many cities add additional taxes to sugary drinks. Next year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require food companies to increase sugar content labels on their packaging.


Now, consumers have been affected by these trends. Research group NPD found that sugar has now become the first nutrient that people want to reduce or even completely remove from the diet.


And for large food companies, this is a worry for them: sugar is one of the basic ingredients for their products.


A paper "Lancet" magazine recently published pointed out that the United States has about 74% sweeteners and packaged foods and drinks contain some type, which spawned a huge market size of more than $100 billion.


Looking for decades of sweeteners, is a false proposition?


In the case of little caloric intake, the two words "health" and "safety" used to be synonyms." Bernstein, analyst at the Research Institute, Ali Dibadj said. According to this standard, he proposed he said: "the first kind of Diet Coke should be the most healthy." Unfortunately, this logic is no longer established.


Food enterprises are facing new difficulties:


In the long time in the past few years, the industry's most outstanding scientists have been trying to find or invent a zero calorie sweetener, thereby replacing sucrose this extract from natural substances in sugarcane. Now, after touching a grey, which is a complex and arduous task to realize the difficulty even higher: scientists may never have invented this imaginary magical substance.


Because consumers are increasingly interested in choosing "natural" and unprocessed foods.


Sugar, the golden standard of taste


Sugar was on the table of our ancestors ten thousand years ago. It's not accidental. Historians have found that the earliest people who ate sugar were ancient New Guinea people.


In 500 BC, some farmers in India from sugarcane into raw sugar. The sugar cane, known as sucrose, is a nearly perfect compound. It is resistant to storage, fermentation, and caramel. It can thicken food, improve taste and texture, and increase the volume of food. Sugar can improve the taste of other condiments.


Even the child will walk will tell you what is sugar. Sugar is the golden standard of sweetness.


The history of people looking for sugar substitutes is equally long. For decades, there are many kinds of sweeteners, saccharin, aspartame [make it known to every family is equal (Equal)] and sucralose [Shanpin sugar (Splenda)] - in be able to boast lower calorie intake in providing maximum sweet at the same time.


Each sweetener appears to repeat the same trajectory:


First announced the discovery of a scientific miracle, guarantee its taste and natural sugar identical and quickly listed, promotion, but because the strange taste and let the consumers greatly disappointed, some products even let people worry it will cause side effects on human health.


Nature, with its leaves, continues to tempt the human tongue


The latest research and development, and successful listing of low calorie alternatives is Stevia (Stevia), the most famous Stevia brand is Truvia. Stevia is a plant extract, so manufacturers call it a natural product. The history of the development of Stevia reflects such products and a huge market opportunity problem.


With doubt, I came to Illinois to visit the world's largest Stevia manufacturing company, PureCircle. Stevia is suitable for growing in warm climates, so it doesn't grow well in winter.


"Apologize to our plants for you." Faith Song, director of global marketing and innovation at the company, apologized, and now her eyes stopped at a Stevia seedling in a flowerpot on the table.


"It's January in Chicago." The whole operation of her company is just around the little green leaves of the plant in front of me.


Stevia's sweet taste is beyond expectations. First of all, the effective sweetener in Stevia is not extracted from its fruit, but from the leaves. What's even more amazing is its powerful aftertaste. I put the leaves in my mouth and chewed them up and spat them out. After a few minutes, the mouth could still feel the sweetness.


"This is nature's trick." Song said.


Let the magic with Stevia substance called stevioside. Its sweetness is 100 to 350 times higher than that of sucrose, and its content in leaves is very low.


This substance is known as a high sweetness sweetener in the industry. However, it is only sweet and sugar similar, and its taste or texture and other all characteristics are far from sucrose.


May be the solution to a long-term problem of stevia sugar product key. But, like the previous sweet substances, it also has a major flaw: some of the most commonly used stevioside has a persistent bitter taste, with a taste similar to that of licorice.


Food companies don't label "food tastes like a coin in their mouth" as a selling point on food labels.


Reverse engineering guards: mix a perfect sweetness


Scientists think that the solution to bitterness is hidden in more than 40 different glycosides found in Stevia leaves. Scientists at, one of PureCircle's rivals, once thought that there must be a single glycoside that could solve the taste problem. [3] there was a problem with the taste of the Cargill.


But the problem is more complex than expected. Because any glycoside has its own unique sweetness and bitterness. The scientists tried to classify all Cargill flavor and glycoside type, different glycoside combined to create a complex model in order to achieve the best taste, taste.


Then, some of the important glycosides are less than 1% in the leaves. Therefore, Cargill Inc and PureCircle plan to improve their content only through variety improvement in the future.


The magic leaves that are not easy to find will be lost to artificial sweeteners?


Stevia has another drawback. Some product formulators said artificial sweeteners and sugar taste similar, so you can easily replace sucrose; use of stevioside and not artificial sweeteners.

PepsiCo Inc CEO Lu Ying once said, because of poor taste, stevioside can not be used to make cola.


Like other sweeteners, stevia has been a big success in the early days of the market. At that time, the food enterprises did not know that glycosides could only provide 70%~80% of the sweet taste of carbonated drinks, so most of the products were defeated.


In addition, increasing the amount of stevioside will lead to a decrease in profit margins, and make its existing defects more obvious. Instead of making completely zero calorie products, the product maker turns to Stevia to help reduce the heat in the product.


Even so, the performance of stevioside in different products is also different. For example, a glycoside called Reb A behaves very well in tea, but it has a serious conflict with the taste of citrus. Even for the same kind of food, there is no single solution.


The leaves of the Savior, is the root of the tree?


Many companies are experimenting with ways to improve the taste of sweeteners or improve the properties of sweeteners.


For example, MycoTechnology, in Colorado, uses the roots of edible fungi to block the bitter aftertaste of stevia. This technology can also reduce the sugar content of white bread and other products by masking bitterness.


Located in the Milwaukee Sensient company with roots or bark and other natural substances to enhance the sweetness of sugar, thereby reducing sugar.


Chromocell, which works with Coca-Cola, and Senomyx, which is working with PepsiCo Inc, are doing similar research.


However, some people think that if you want to make Stevia delicious, only repair or mixing is not enough. In the United States on behalf of Taylor's visit on the outskirts of Chicago at the time, I tasted a cucumber lemon drink developed by the team here, with Stevia sweetener.


This beverage tastes light, refreshing and sweet, with a little bitter aftertaste. But when I turned to my master Harrison, I found him in a bad mood.


"I can't drink this."." He said. When you drink, you feel bad." An hour later, he still hasn't slowed down. So Harrison opened a can of root juice and tried to use it to dilute the residual taste in the mouth.


God, it's always sweet to choose humans, not humans, to choose sweetness!


Harrison's taste is more sensitive than ordinary people. In fact, about half of them are disgusted with the bitter taste of stevia. This is an unacceptable flaw for firms that are ready to put their products into the market in large quantities.

"If you produce a food, but 40% of people hate it, the loss caused by this defect is unbearable." Harrison said.


The other 20% did not perceive any bitterness at all because the human genes were different!


"Each person has a different threshold." John Smythe, director of taste sensing at the Tailai company, points out. The myth of "completely replicating sucrose" is basically myth." Smythe said.


Can't overcome sucrose, can only transform our nerves?


PureCircle's solution to this problem is to adapt people to stevia. "People will say to us, you've done so much innovation, but it doesn't taste like sucrose No, it tastes like stevia." Song said. "We admit that the two tastes are different."


Every time when I eat without sucrose taste sweet, will feel a kind of artificial flavor. This is because of the configuration of our brain and taste cells.


"Every time we taste the taste of sugar, our brains send out signals of 'good taste'." Smythe said. "Tasting other tastes, it signals" not good taste. "."


The production of food science, now people only recognize the "natural" word


In the decades after the Second World War, there was a peak of so-called "scientific" food production. But now consumers are more likely to want their food to be "natural" and simple.


This trend has made the process of developing low calorie sweeteners more complex. Consumers think that the less the additives, the healthier the food.


"The ultimate goal is what additives do not use."." Alex Wu Yue, who worked at Kraft and PepsiCo Inc. If you have to use additives, he says, your retreat is to say "no artificial colors or sweeteners."."


That's the core of the current dilemma. Who can design a natural sweetener? Cargill, for example, is planning to produce some of the rarest and best tasting stevioside through fermentation. Due to the high cost of production, the listing time of the product named EverSweet has been postponed.


In addition, because it is not directly extracted from the leaves, so consumers agree that it is a kind of natural food is still unknown, which will undoubtedly give it cast a shadow over the prospects.


Even if sugar is natural in the world, there is always something more natural - the weird logic of consumers


The U.S. Food and drug administration does not give the definition of the word "natural", so it ultimately depends on the respective views of the buyer and seller.


Some consumers say that they only choose products they think are pure substances - and that's why sugar is back on the road. Even if sucrose brought to their physical harm is much greater than the risk of artificial sweeteners, they are so.


There is no reason to believe that the natural sugar substitute is better than artificial nutrition department at Rutgers University, a professional research professor Paul Breslin said the taste of food.


"The only thing we know is that we know too little."

Breslin - nutrition professor at Rutgers University.


For example:

Why did the sweetness of food always indicate heat in the past, but in many cases it is no longer the case?


How do the sweet sensory nerves in the mouth and intestines work?


Even today, scientists are not fully aware of the sugar we want to replace.


Looking for the perfect substitute of sucrose - this is a fool in look for a needle in the ocean


When Grant Dubois joined the Coca Cola Co in 1992, the dark clouds of the crisis of type two diabetes have begun to emerge. "Soon, my job turned out to be a sweetener system that could replace sucrose." The organic chemist who will become the Coca Cola Co's additive and product science manager says.


His duty is to let Diet Coke flavors and sweeteners as their regular cola. At the end of the ten year, new requirements for natural substances must be added.


"In fact, artificial flavorings and sweeteners have been developed." He said.


For example, from a plant in South Africa, sweeter than 3000 times sweeter than sugar. But when exposed to light, it emits a disgusting, fecal odor. "It's a terrible stench." Dubois said.


Find the perfect substitute of sucrose is a fool, he said look for a needle in the ocean. ". "I think the hope of getting engineering is more elusive than finding a gold mine," he said. The probability of success is actually zero."


Through hardships, they found a substitute for sugar!

Unfortunately, the name of the substitute actually has a word "sugar"......


Although there are technical difficulties, and the hope of finding solutions is not great, many enterprises are still continuing to study. Now chemists are more eager to find sweet substances in nature than ever before." Dubois, currently a consultant, said.


A company in Davies, California, is studying a sweet protein called "miracle fruit", a sweet protein that perfectly matches taste buds and turns sour taste into sweetness.


Nevertheless, ailulose marketing has encountered great difficulties: from the chemical viewpoint, ailulose is a kind of sugar.


Although it contains almost no calories, it must be marked as "sugar" in the nutrient table".


This will undoubtedly mislead consumers. Taylor company is currently the U.S. Food and drug administration to apply for exception handling.


One of the most promising alternatives: a special Chinese fruit


Recently, a plant based substitute extracted from a Chinese fruit gourd called gourd fruit has attracted people's attention. The sweetness of the fruit is accompanied by stevioside, which dilutes its bitterness. However, it is seldom used alone as sweetener because its cost is five times higher than that of sucrose.


She has been trying to find new products. Recently, she went to Central America, discovered a potential plant leaf and took it back as a sample. "Whatever it is, as long as the taste is sweet, we'll take it back to do the analysis." She said.


At the same time, Nestle tried to transform the crystals of sugar and turn it into a hollow structure. Stefan Kachkas, the innovation manager of Nestle, likened sugar crystals to a box. Only the sucrose molecules on the outside of the crystal can be felt by us, and the internal molecules do not work at all.


"We can change the crystal structure so that all the sucrose molecules that touch the tongue can be felt by the taste buds." Karchi Cass expresses. This scheme is expected to reduce the amount of sucrose by 40%. But the price to pay is to know that everything has a price: the hollow structure breaks down in water, and most foods contain water.


Let Nestle rejoice, there is a kind of, and there is only one kind of water - free food - chocolate.


Well, the ultimate solution: can you eat less sugar?


In fact, there is a solution that is obvious to everyone: why not eat less sugar?

Coca Cola Co says they have reduced the sugar content of more than 200 carbonated drinks.


The PepsiCo Inc has promised that by 2025, at least 2/3 of Pepsi products will lose 100 calories per 12 ounces. A Pepsi can get 150 calories


General mills have begun to reduce the sugar content in their cereal and yogurt.


Nestle has also made its own commitments.


But the real problem is a collective game: the reactions of other food companies in the market.


"They fear that consumers will turn to other competitors if they don't like 20% of the sugar content." Dubois said.


It's hard for companies to take the lead in self discipline. Some experts think of the government: perhaps the food industry should learn from the experience of the British sodium reduction program. In 2005, the British food industry promised to halve the sodium content in major food products over the next 8 years. In 2011, the country's sodium consumption dropped by 15%, and the number of deaths caused by stroke and heart disease dropped by about 40%.


Finally, go back to today's topic: sugar, or reduce human dependence on sugar.


The government may keep calling, and the industry may continue to make surface commitments. And the perfect sweetness solution, the so-called "next miracle" - may never be out of reach.




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