Sweet, Sweeter, Sweetener

How much do you know about those low-calorie sugar substitutes that you sprinkle into your coffee or your pudding? Read on to find out whether you would really be better off with plain old-fashioned honey.

By Connie Phillipson, Athens News
Also on HCS

Born Wild and Green

Greeks: Nuts About Nuts

Santorini Tomatoes

The Cure is in Oregano!! "Rigani"

Taking a cue from my clients’ interest in sweets and also in sweeteners – I have decided to devote at least one article on the subject.

When I tell them that there are virtually dozens of classes of sweet-tasting substances in the world, their puzzled question often is why then are we dependent on so few. The reason is partly, of course, that the favorite sweetener of the Mediterranean diet, honey, is a rather expensive commodity since it involves labor-intensive operations.

It is also partly the cost of having to approve a new food additive with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), regulating the world’s largest market. Since many other countries do not have their own accreditation agencies but simply follow the US, the FDA is the primary target of companies’ petitions for new food additives for obvious reasons. But the outcome is unpredictable to put it mildly.

It has been estimated that a petition for a new low-calorie sweetener can generate over 30,000 pages of data, take from 10 to 20 years, and cost several hundred million dollars. Delays caused by demands for additional data, safety tests, interference by other agencies or business groups, inimical headlines in the media, and painstaking slow processing by the FDA’s necessarily ultraconservative procedures, can exhaust the patience and the budgets of most food companies.

And these are only two of the reasons why we do not have a larger choice of sweeteners – the ones in current use being acesulfame-K, alitame, aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose, thaumatin, and the large class of polyols. Let us examine here some of the intense sweeteners we use and know, and take up in a future article some other sweeteners we don’t know well or which are presently being developed.

Saccharin is undoubt
edly one of the oldest synthetic sweeteners, discovered by accident in 1878 and patented seven years later. By the turn of the century some 200 tonnes were produced. It is 200-700 times sweeter than sucrose, our ordinary sugar, but it

It has been estimated that a petition for a new low-calorie sweetener can generate over 30,000 pages of data, take from 10 to 20 years, and cost several hundred million dollars.
is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Yet H.W. Wiley director of the FDA, failed to remove saccharin from the market, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1910) personally intervened to keep saccharin freely available. The FDA tried again to ban saccharin from the market in 1977, but such was the public outcry linked to the demand for sweeteners without calories, that numerous Congressional hearings took place and a Congressional moratorium overrode the FDA ban. And that’s how things stand at present.

Cyclamates too went through a controversial period during the 1950s and 1960s, and one FDA commissioner lost his job over the dispute. Sodium cyclamate is about 30 times sweeter than sugar, but does not have the metallic after-taste of saccharin. Therefore, it is considered to have what is known as a better glycemic profile, though certainly not a more healthy one.

Aspartame was also discovered accidentally in 1969, and, just as with saccharin, it was due to a lapse in laboratory hygiene. Actually, it had been made previously in 1965 out of aspartic acid and phenylalanine, but at the time it had not been tasted. It is 100-200 times sweeter than sucrose and has a clean sucrose-like flavor, which has made it extremely popular with soft drink manufacturers. There are virtually hundreds of other derivatives synthesized by interested companies, few actually sweeter, most less sweet, some tasteless and others bitter. In the 1970s and 1980s aspartame was involved in serious controversies involving its safety, and the matter has still not been settled.

Acesulfame-K was discovered in 1973, and it has been cleared for use in the EU. It is some 140-200 times sweeter than sugar. It is produced like aspartame by combining two different substances, neither of which is sweet.

Alitame is the result of intensive research that started in the early 1970s at the Central Research Unit of Pfizer Inc, after the accidental discovery of aspartame showed the potential of dipeptides as high-intensity sweeteners. This research resulted in the development of alitame in 1979. It is some 2,000-3,000 times sweeter than sugar. Aside from thermal stability, its major advantage, alitame’s stability at high acidity levels makes it suitable where these properties are desirable.

Now you know some more facts about those little white tablets, you may wish to reconsider showering your desert with them. The following delicious recipes are absolutely sugar-free, so you can indulge to your heart’s (and the rest of your organism’s) content.

Sugarless apple walnut strudel
Serves 6

2 apples
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
¼ tsp lemon juice
¼ cup butter
200g leaves of phyllo pastry
bread crumbs

Peel, core, and chop apples. Combined apples, walnuts and lemon juice in mixing bowl; fold to mix. Melt butter. Place two phyllo leaves on a lightly dampened cloth with lightly spread bread crumbs. Brush leaves lightly with melted butter. Lay a second leaf on top of each leaf. Brush each layer lightly with melted butter. Repeat using all the leaves. Place apple filling 5cm in from long edges. Fold over the ends. Roll up dough in jellyroll fashion. Score top into ten pieces with a sharp knife or scissors and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 180c/350 F for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Fresh fruit almond torte
Serves 8

¼ cup plus 3 tbs unsalted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup plus 2 tbs blanched slivered almonds, finely ground
1/8 tsp salt optional
¼ cup no-sugar red raspberry jam
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved lengthways
2 pears, halved lengthways, cored and cut into 0.5cm slices
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and cut crosswise into 0.5cm slices
¼ cup no-sugar apricot jam

Preheat oven to 175FC/375 F. Beat butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add almonds and salt and mix thoroughly. Spread batter in the bottom of a 23cm cake pan lined with wax paper and buttered. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Place torte on a rack to cool. Invert torte onto serving platter. Discard waxed paper. Brush torte with raspberry jam. Arrange strawberries, pears and kiwi in a circular pattern on top of torte. Brush with apricot jam.