Smarter than a sweetener? Flavour modifier matches sugar's mouthfeel & sweetness

Biochemist Steve Pearce has developed OmegaSweet, a flavour enhancing system which can reduce sugar content in a range of applications.

OmegaSweet is a natural, flavour-modifying ingredient that not only replaces sugar's sweetness but mimics its mouthfeel in beverages - a smarter way to reduce sugar ahead of the UK's sugar tax, says the company behind it, Omega Ingredients.

Without revealing details of which specific ingredients are in the proprietary blend, Omega Ingredients co-founder and biochemist Steve Pearce said OmegaSweet is a flavour enhancing system – not a sweetener – and is fully authorised for the EU market, where it can be listed on-pack as a natural (or non-artificial) flavouring.

Founded in 2001, the UK-based biotechnology and extraction firm already has several OmegaSweet recipes in its portfolio that are suited to different flavours, such as citrus and berry, and can develop more to carry Cola flavours or other botanical blends while just a small amount is needed for the active ingredients to have an effect.

“Even though we may only be adding 0.1%, [the ingredients] are driving the perception of sweetness,” said Pearce. “We can demonstrate 100% sugar replacement with OmegaSweet but sugar and water are two of the cheapest ingredients you can put into beverages so [companies] will still continue to use them.

“Sucrose also has a flavour that consumers in Europe like, so many manufacturers don’t want to go to zero sugar, they just want to reduce it.”

Sugar tax is driving interest

Although it can be used in almost any application, OmegaSweet is best suited to beverages – and with the UK’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages due to come into force in March 2018, the majority of interest in the flavour modifier has come from British drinks manufacturers.

Flavouring substances with modifying properties are used to change the individual characteristics of the flavour of a food. Flavour modification effects can include increasing, decreasing, or changing the perception of individual relevant sensorial characteristics of flavour.

For example, when neohesperidine DC (which at high concentrations tastes sweet) is added to a flavouring which is then added to a food, it increases the fruity flavour and reduces bitterness.

Source: The UK Flavour Association

Pearce said he has been surprised at the reaction of many supermarkets and manufacturers so far in their approach to reformulation ahead of the levy.

“Lots of supermarkets are going down a very cheap road, using saccharin, sucralose or Acesulfame-k – things you thought were gone – to replace sugar. That’s the first thing they’ve done and yes, they are saving money, but at cost.”

These non-nutritive sweeteners sacrifice ‘mouth-feel’ and often create a bitter or astringent after-taste.

Matching sugar's mouthfeel

“In beverages that’s one of big issues that developers have. As soon as they take out sugar,  they have a product that is less than half as sweet but also tastes watery. It won’t sell.

"OmegaSweet also provides a double function: enhancing sweetness perception and providing bulk to replicate the mouthfeel that sugar provides in beverages." 

OmegaIngredients, which counts 16 members of staff, two of whom are dedicated to full time research and development, is now in the process of conducting long-term tests on extended shelf-life and stability.

But since the flavour modifier is produced in batches according to individual customer demand, there is generally no need to add preservatives, Pearce said.

It currently has the capacity to produce around five million litres, which comes in a clear, liquid form.

The flavour and fragrance firm will be presenting OmegaSweet at the British Society of Flavourist's 'table talk' event in Amsterdam on 3 March this year.

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