A Chronology of Sugar Substitutes
Having to watch out for diabetes now, and limit my sugar (sucrose, fructose) intake, I’ve been looking more into sugar substitutes. Let’s run down the ones I’ve had, in order (and packet color, which I see is actually an official code for the substance):
Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
Eventually got a bad rap because of an allegation of causing cancer in rats. This was debunked, but by that time, others rose up.
The basic substance is benzoic sulfilimine, which is a type of chemical compound containing a sulfur to nitrogen double bond. In order to make it water soluble, its sodium salt (or sometimes calcium salt) is what’s used as sweetener. It was accidentally discovered by a chemist working on coal tar derivatives noticed the compound that he had been working on left a sweet taste on his hands.
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
Same thing, to me. Both had this ridiculous wierd aftertaste, like some sort of chemical, and to some people, gives headaches.
It is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. (These basically all involve molecules of different acids).
This one seemed to have promise. Advertised as “it’s made with sugar, so it tastes like sugar“. So I eagerly tried it a few years ago, for my morning hot tea with milk. At first it seemed like it might pass, but it still had the aftertaste; only much more bearable than the previous two. (Equal even tried to sue them over their slogan; as “misleading”).
According to Wikipedia (citing http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Everything_You_Need_to_Know_About_Sucralose): “Splenda usually contains 95% dextrose (D-glucose) and maltodextrin which the body readily metabolizes, combined with a small amount of mostly indigestible sucralose. Sucralose is made by replacing three select hydrogen-oxygen groups on sucrose (table sugar) molecules with three chlorine atoms. The tightly bound chlorine atoms create a molecular structure that is remarkably stable”
Now, the new darling of health and natural foods consciousness is
Made from a natural leaf. But it to me tasted almost like the first two. Then, I heard one company’s “Stevia in the Raw” was better. So I just tried that out, in both my hot tea and iced tea. It seems to be better, perhaps like Splenda, but still that aftertaste was there; though again, more bearable than the others. It seemed more noticeable in the hot tea than the iced tea.
When going to whole foods to buy it, I also see something packaged under their “Wholesome” brand called “Zero”. http://www.wholesomesweeteners.com/brands/Wholesome_Sweeteners/Zero.html
It consists of erythritol (Zerose), which is described as “a natural sugar found in our bodies and other organic sources such as fruits and soy sauce”. (Reported to be manufactured in quantity by “chemically converting genetically modified corn into a food grade starch which it ferments to create glucose and then processes further to create erythritol.” ^)
THIS is the one that passes, completely! (as far as the aftertaste). It is less sweet than sugar, but it doesn’t have aftertaste at all! The tea still tastes like sweetened tea, not like it has some strange chemical in it. You can simply add more to make it sweeter, and as they point out, this is OK, since it adds no calories, and is safe for the teeth.
It also looks and feels EXACTLY LIKE sugar, with the same granulated texture.
The one drawback is the crystals taking longer to dissolve in cold liquid.
Looking up all this stuff, I find out that the other sweeteners (including Stevia) are actually hundreds of times as sweet as sugar. And of course, the texture is completely different. It’s finer (and tends to spread on top of the liquid first, right away making it look like some other kind of substance). So they have to add other stuff in it; “bulking agents” such as dextrose, maltodextrin, and often some other stuff, to both dilute the sweetness and try to make the serving size the same for the same amount of sweetness; in addition to improving the texture, I believe. (The Wholesome brand organic stevia I tried had agave inulin (a sugar) plus silica; and Stevia in the Raw has dextrose. These have been called “sugar ninjas“: http://www.loveyourreflection.net/healthy-foods/stevia-beware-of-sugar-ninjas!)
I’m wondering if that’s actually where the aftertaste comes from. Really trying to pay attention to why those sweeteners taste so strange, as I was trying out the Stevia in the Raw, as with all diet drinks (especially if I didn’t even realize it was diet), at the very first, or you could say the “attack” of the taste, it seems like it’s going to be normal. But then it has a quick “decay”, where the taste suddenly drops out, and you’re waiting for it to come back, and it doesn’t. It’s like a “null” feeling. You can’t savor the taste. Yet it’s not completely nothing; there’s like a dry “pasty” feel in your mouth, with a “cooling effect” (especially noticeable when you taste the powder by itself). I realized that you’re actually tasting the sweetness by itself, and sweetness usually enhances the flavor, but the flavor has been cancelled out by the other stuff (it seems), so you’re left with the dulled-down sweetness, the taste of the other stuff, and the texture of the whole mix. It’s like the diet soda goes from regular to seltzer or club soda in a second.
When you taste the sweetener by itself, it has this “sharp” sweet taste; the “saccharine” effect, basically.
The erythritol on the other hand, has nothing else in it (sole ingredient), and as was said, is already the texture of sugar. That’s why that one is tasting best. (Though while all those others are heavily promoted, I never heard of this one until I saw it in the store the other day [original press time]. It itself is also used as a bulking agent for stevia derivatives in some other products like Truvia).
There is also pure stevia extract, in both powder and liquid form, that has either no other ingredient, or the liquid version which has water and vegetable glycerine added. I saw the powder when getting the other two (without the bulking agents, it looks like a fine powder like flour), and got to taste the liquid in a health store afterward. I’m wondering if this is what we supposed to have tried instead of Stevia in the Raw (which is just a brand name, really; not that it’s pure stevia like this is). Without the bulking agents, you need much less of it (a drop or two of the liquid, from a liquid dropper cap).
The liquid tasted a bit funny (the “licorice-like” taste I’ve seen mentioned), and had some of the same “saccharine” sweetness and dry, pasty feel in the mouth afterward, but not the “null” aftertaste of the other sweeteners. I could savor the taste of the tea (Not knowing what to do with the little sample I was given in a cup; way too sweet to just lick it with my fingers; I took the cup to a store and made tea with it). Still tasted a little bit different, but this one is bearable.
I tried The Vitamin Shoppe’s pure stevia extract, which had a tiny 45mg scooper (seems to be the same exact product, including the bottle and scoop, I first saw in Whole Foods under their “365” label), and one scoop did not quite give me enough of a savorable “decay”, but then two scoops gave the tea the “saccharine” taste, but with not as much of the “null” aftertaste; just the overboard funny sweetness wearing off.
Again, I think the problem is the “hundreds of times sweeter than sugar” effect, and Zerose (and one other, below) are the only ones (that I’m seeing so far) not like that.
http://www.stevia-extract-sweetener.com says that their stevia plants have, through cross-polination and selection, a very low Stevioside content, and a very high Rebaudioside A content. The former is the high glycoside in the plant that imparts the bitter taste, so by reducing it, they claim to have eliminated the aftertaste. But their product is only sold online, and I like to try the ones I can pick up and look at first in a store.
The liquid one I tried was from InVite Health, and I don’t know if it’s the related to this one, so if this other one has less of that taste, then I should try it too!
When going to another Whole Foods to get another pack of Zerose, I see yet another entirely different product called
Just Like Sugar. http://www.justlikesugarinc.com.
It consists of chicory Root, Dietary Fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and natural flavors from the orange peel. I see in looking it up that chicory root is healthy, and even kills parasites.
According to this site http://www.buzzle.com/articles/chicory-root-fiber.html it is an inulin (a polysaccharide, which are long carbohydrate molecules). See also http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1048-INULIN.aspx?activeIngredientId=1048&activeIngredientName=INULIN
It’s almost as good as Zerose. It too is not quite as sweet as sugar, but doesn’t have the “intense sweet and bitter licorice after taste” of some stevia products. The texture at first looks like regular sugar, but it is a bit finer, and looks like the other bulked powders when going into the liquid (where it spreads across the top first; like powdered milk).
As some reviewed, it is enough to smooth off the bitterness of caffeine, even though it doesn’t sweeten it that much.
We also got some Celestial Seasonings iced tea brewing cups, which have rebiana (rebaudioside; the version of stevia used in Truvia), and it seems better, with a small “less-sweet” aftertaste. (It took me a couple of drinks of it to even notice).
What I had planned to do is take the Zerose and mix a little bit of the pure extract powder in it. That should be enough to fill in for the lower sweetness, but without changing the taste. I thought this would be the opposite of what is done for Truvia. I was wondering what the stevia/erythritol mix would be like, and it is better than the stevia with the other bulking agents. This further confirms that that other stuff is probably where the “null aftertaste” is coming from.
Doing this with the Just Like Sugar had a good effect. You taste a bit of the super-sweet stevia, but the aftertaste is more “full” from the JLS, and this is what I’m looking for. (This for hot tea with milk. For iced tea, neither the pure stevia nor JLS are as good as they are in the hot tea. They leave a sort of dry, unsweet aftertaste).
But when I finally try Truvia, I find it looks just like what I had planned. You see it consisting of the larger erythritol crystals, so a little bit of the finer stevia must have been added to it, rather than it being primarily stevia or one of those compound-looking powders. A packet is 3.5g, and the erythritol is listed as 3g, so the stevia must be the remaining .5g. (There’s also “natural flavors”; and the powder by itself does smell a little bit like some sort of cake or candy or something; like it has vanilla in it basically, but I don’t know how many grams that contributes).
This is by far the best, as it has no aftertaste, and two packs of it will give you a tiny bit of the “sharp” sweet taste, but no null after-effect.
Just as I figured, the stevia and erythritol fill in for each other. The stevia is too sweet, and the erythritol is not sweet enough, yet does not cut out into the null aftertaste, and also has the same crystalline texture as sugar.
I would still mix the stevia and Zerose myself the next time I got the latter, as the taste could have been better in the Celestial Seasonings tea. It is for the most part perfect when I add one packet on Truvia to it (in addition to a shot of Simply Lemonade, which of course has regular sugar). The erythritol provides the natural aftertaste the rebiana lacks. So I decided to try Zerose with a smaller percentage of stevia; perhaps just a “dusting” of it, to perhaps cover just enough to fill in that missing sweetness.
In my own homemade iced tea, the Truvia [by itself] was pretty much fine, and didn’t leave the less than sweet aftertaste.
Erythritol is considered one of those “sugar ninjas” because it is a “sugar alcohol”*, and this is what Truvia is generally often criticized for; but to repeat, erythritol is not retained by the body, and thus adds no calories/sugar to the blood, and this is what’s important in replacing sugar.
*(this is a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate whose molecular structure makes it part of a hydroxyl group, which is what defines an alcohol. But it’s really neither a sugar, nor an alcohol as we commonly think of them).
I don’t know why they don’t just do away with the other sweeteners and replace all of them with this one right now in “diet” products. Both Coke and Pepsi keep coming out with new diet sodas with new names (“Zero”, “One”, whatever the new names they keep adding), and yet they all still use aspartame/phenylaniline/asulfsame. (Stuff doesn’t even sound edible! And I’m struck by, the special notice AFTER the ingredients”: PHENYLKETONURICS – CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE. I see this is a warning for certain people who have a metabolic disorder, Phenylketonuria or PKU, where they can’t consume aspartame).
What’s really the difference from the old “Diet” version, then? Ironically, Coke and Pepsi actually were involved in the development of Truvia and another one, PureVia, respectively (the latter has dextrose and cellulose powder added; I’ll pass), and I read about the companies using them in their products; but I haven’t been seeing these, so far. So why aren’t they in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi? (They must have had signed a 99 year contract with the makers of aspartame, or something. I also see a claim that stevia’s approval was delayed for almost two decades because of some anonymous complaint by an industry group, suspected to be connected with the makers of aspartame).
All of the new sweeteners I tried are those I ran across in the store, and could readily buy. One I ignored, because I initially hadn’t seen it in the store (Vitamin Shoppe has it, but I wasn’t paying attention to it before), but kept seeing it in my research on sweeteners is Xylitol. This is another “sugar alcohol” or polyol (like erythritol). It was said to taste “roughly as sweet as sucrose with 33% fewer calories”.
I was going to skip over it, because 33% fewer calories means 66-67%, while erythritol has “95% less calories” (i.e. 5%). I decided to try it anyway (Kal brand), and found it does in fact make the hot tea taste just like it does with regular sugar. (It also like erythritol has the same texture as sugar).
1 serving size of 4g has 10 calories (and 0 sugars, but 4g “sugar alcohols”), while packets of Domino sugar is 3.5g, at 15 calories, and 4g sugar (how are the sugars even greater than the total volume of the packet? They must be rounding that figure up). As all calories are not bad, the worse thing about sugar calorie seems to be the sugars themselves, I’m not sure how this figures in how much healthier Xylitol is than sugar.
This site http://vegetarianspotlight.com/2012/zero-calories-zero-benefits-why-diet-sodas-are-bad-for-you says that depriving your body of the calories (food energy), yet taking in the extra sweetness in artificially sweetened sodas actually had a bad effect. It tricks your body into thinking it’s getting energy, and this makes it thinks it prepare to digest food, and thus crave more, since it’s not actually getting it.
We often associate calories with the amount of sugar in the food, and lowering the sugar does lower the calories. But the thing with calories is that the unused energy turns into fat. Sugar has both this effect, in addition to raising the blood sugar, which causes the insulin/diabetes problem. Since I’m trying to keep blood sugar low, now, I guess the most important thing is the sugars, and the reduced calories will at least help with the weight.
The reputation polyols have is a “laxative” effect, when consumed excessively (Like I saw, over 50g). Erythritol is said to be the exception; or lat least, studies have not found any such problem with it.
So then, comparing the iced tea with Truvia, with Xylitol, the later does taste better, having less of the natural bitterness in the aftertaste. Looks like Xylitol is going to be the way to go.
I then finally do my mix of two 5g packs of Zero with a little less than one 45mg scoop of stevia (I call it “Erivia“!) and find it also works well in both the hot tea and iced tea, though still not as good as the Xylitol in the latter.
Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
Just Like Sugar (chicory inulin)
The holy grail of sweeteners I had been waiting for for over 20 years now, was what’s known as “left-handed sugars“. This I learned about in a book called Future Stuff, which also mentioned stuff like electric cars, IIRC, the fat substitutes which eventually came out (Olean/Olestra; the novelty of them seems to have cooled off), and recordable CD’s (CD-R existed, but was very high end, and unheard of by most, and the proposed commercial rewritable format was still Tandy’s THOR-CD, which shortly after would fizzle out as “vapor-disc”. That was one of the big tech things I was waiting for before I got into LED’s).
Left-handed sugar is (not “made with”, but IS) pure sugar, but with the molecules being in reverse form from that of normal sugar. So it doesn’t get picked up by the body, and just passes through without adding to our calories, and thus fat cells. The book said that the sugars, which were found in sources like seaweed, was very hard to produce in quantity. I read a claim that since the molecule is different, the taste receptors wouldn’t pick it up either, but those who deal with it seem to indicate that it tastes just like regular sugar.
It is more scientifically known as “L-glucose” and “L-fructose”, and one company, Spherix, which found it too expensive to be viable, substitutes another sugar, called D-tagatose (D stands for “dexter-“, which means “right hand”; L is “laevan” for “left”), and markets it as “Naturlose™“.
“The right-handed tagatose is similar enough to a left-handed sugar to cause the human stomach to digest only a small percentage of it, making it low in calories. More importantly, Spherix developed an inexpensive method to make tagatose, and patented the method in 1988.” (http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2004/ch_4.html) Another company, Arla Foods, markets it as “Gaio® tagatose“.
This does not seem to be commercially available yet, and I hear it is expensive. It’s marketed to companies to use in foods.
So for now, the polyols and Truvia are the best!