Sugar long has been a staple in baked foods, providing sweetness, texture, moisture and more. And with growing consumer demand for clean label products, more bakers are turning to natural sweeteners for their products. 

At BakingTech 2023, held Feb. 28 to March 2 in Chicago, Richard Charpentier, chief executive officer of Baking Innovation, and Larry Jackson, former director of product commercialization at Flowers Foods, highlighted natural sweeteners at bakers’ disposal and how to best incorporate them into baked foods. 

Similar to traditional sugar, Mr. Charpentier noted that natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup have strong consumer appeal while similarly contributing browning, flavor and moisture to baked foods.

“Any natural sugar that you have at home in your kitchen, consumers react to it well,” he said. “And it usually sees an uptick in sales for those producing it.” 

Molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, is also an option for bakers that offers browning and flavor development. Mr. Charpentier added that molasses is a great food source for yeast, aiding in fermentation, and also is widely used in whole wheat bread to help overcome undesirable flavors.

Other emerging natural sweeteners include agave nectar, coconut sugar, date sugar and jaggery sugar.

While there are many natural sweeteners bakers can use to achieve desired product qualities and a clean label, incorporating these ingredients can pose their own challenges and necessary considerations, Mr. Jackson noted. 

Different sugars have different rates of caramelization, for example, and this rate is affected by the sugar’s concentration as well.

Natural sweeteners also have unique packaging and storage needs. Honey, for example, has a low Ph and will oxidize metal drums and lids, Mr. Jackson said, while molasses has a shorter shelf life than traditional sugar. 

“Moisture and temperature are the two factors in optimal sugar storage,” Mr. Jackson said. “Sugar syrups should not be allowed to get too hot or freeze, as this will encourage crystallization. Heat will also darken color and alter flavor in sugar syrups and honey.”

Mr. Jackson recommended bakers store sugar in a cool, dry location with a temperature range of 45°F to 70°F, and to keep humidity in the storage environment low.