GRAS-approved stevia can be found in an increasing number of bakery products across the US as a partial sugar substitute. However, use has been held back by technical challenges of maintaining the ingredient’s stability, according to Sai Prakash Chaturvedula, chief scientific officer at Sweet Leaf – part of Wisdom Natural Brands.
“Stevia is highly demanded in baking and it can be used in various forms – solid, liquid, powders; everything,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com at IFT 2014 in New Orleans last week.
“However, not enough has been done. People are using it for their requirements, but they’re not going beyond that. We have to go beyond that…. My feeling is; it’s not been tapped to the extent that it can be tapped.”
Full sugar replacement? It needs more research
He said most bakery manufacturers were using stevia in combination with sugar for partial sugar replacement. Chaturvedula said Sweet Leaf’s SugarLeaf product, for example, allowed baker's to use stevia in combination with mixture cane sugar.
But, he said future opportunities existed for full sugar replacement if research and development efforts were stepped up. “It needs more research. We need to do a lot more research in that area.”
The scientific community and R&D departments had to look into protecting the ingredient during the baking process – at high temperatures and for varying cooking durations.
He said the challenge was that stevia molecules had to withstand high temperatures and often long baking times to meet manufacturers requirements.
Each stevia glycocide could react differently
The complex matter was that the collection of stevia glycocides that made up the ingredient could each potentially decompose at different temperatures and points during the baking process, he explained. A stevia that contained four compounds, for example, could end up with only two left intact after baking, he said.
Asked if encapsulation could work to protect the compounds, he said: “Even if you’re encapsulating, you need to ask – how much can it protect each compound at each temperature? To be honest, to my knowledge, not many people have done total research in this area.”
Stevia in the EU
Back in 2011, stevia was ruled as safe to use in a number of food products from chocolate to sauces and drinks, but it was not cleared for use in bakery products over concerns about over-consumption and consumers exceeding recommended daily intakes.