Natural Sweetener Key Properties

Originally Published: January 6, 2017
Last Updated: February 9, 2021
When selecting natural sweeteners for use in product development, sweetness intensity is a key factor, as are taste, aroma and color.

January 6, 2017 – “Some say clean label is food industry’s response to the lack of a clear definition for ‘natural,’” began Catalin Moraru, International Food Network/Covance Food Solutions, at the 2016 Clean Label Conference.

Sweeteners are among the top strategies for cleaning up labels; this strategy is being employed by the industry, as over the past four years the use of the “natural” sweetener stevia has increased more than 30%. The FDA’s new labeling rule to include the amount of added sugars on a product’s Nutrition Facts panel will focus
even more attention on sweeteners.

Most nutritive sweeteners have similar or lower sweetness compared to sugar. In contrast, high-potency sweeteners are significantly sweeter than sugar; therefore, they are used in much smaller quantities. The natural high-potency sweeteners approved in the U.S. are stevia and monk fruit extracts. Some others are FEMA GRAS, so they can be used and labeled as flavors, but may enhance sweetness. Flavor houses use some of them as sweetness modulators.


Synergy was documented among several sweeteners, which can be cost-beneficial and lessen impact of any detrimental attributes. For example, Reb A exhibits synergy with sugar and with the FEMA GRAS ingredient monatin.

Click for a larger view of the chart.  

Among the criteria to keep in mind when selecting a sweetener, the primary is obviously the sweetness potency and quality. Sucrose has a clean flavor, while other natural sweeteners may have a specific taste, aroma and/or color. For example, barley malt syrup has a slightly malty, barley aroma and darker color; sweet potato concentrate has a sweet potato flavor, etc. These attributes may be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the application. Blends of sweeteners may address quality issues and help reach the potency desired, while reducing detrimental levels of off-notes or colors. Synergies among blend constituents can also make blends more cost-effective.

Another consideration related to sweetness quality is the temporal profile: how quickly is sweetness perceived from the moment the sweetener is on the tongue, and then how long until the sweetness sensation dissipates. Sugar has a relatively fast onset, but it dissipates quickly, too. In contrast, stevia extract’s onset is slower, and it lingers longer.

“Most consumers do not like remnant sweetness lingering in the mouth,” Moraru stated. “This is yet another reason to consider using sweetener blends, as their components can address the onset and later perception or lingering, respectively.”

Other physical attributes of interest depend on the application. For instance, heat stability is key in baked applications; pH stability is important in carbonated beverages; and color may be detrimental in clear beverages.

When replacing sugar, its other functionalities in the application will need to be
addressed. Some sweeteners contribute color through Maillard browning or caramelization, which can be desirable in baked goods but detrimental in other applications. Sugar and certain other sweeteners are also humectants; they help retain desirable moisture in a product. Sugar contributes body, texture and volume, and may act as a preservative, because it lowers water activity. The choice of sweeteners for a specific application will thus be driven by the functional aspects which are to be provided.

Sugar is a cost-efficient sweetener compared to most others; however, the cost-in-use should be considered when comparing options. When replacing sugar, cost may be controlled using a blend of high-potency and bulk sweeteners.

Fine-tuning sweetness can be done with modifiers that address specific issues, such as off-flavors or slow onset and lingering flavors. Flavor houses now offer a large number of modifiers, sweetness potentiators and enhancers, as well as various blockers and maskers.

In summary, a fair number of natural sweeteners are currently available, and their selection will be based on their functionality, attributes and cost, while understanding specific consumers wants. Much research is underway to better understand sweetness receptors and how this knowledge can be utilized.

“Conventional to Emerging Natural Sweeteners: Key Properties for Product Applications,” Catalin Moraru, Ph.D., Technical Manager, Covance Food Solution

January 6, 2017–Global Food Forums, Inc.The summary above is an excerpt from the “2016 Clean Label Conference Magazine.”

This presentation was given at the 2016 Clean Label Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to

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