Finally, we paid a visit to the booth of Ajinomoto, which was showcasing application opportunities for its brand new zero-calorie high intensity sweetener advantame.
Produced from aspartame and vanillin, advantame is more heat stable than aspartame, making it ideal for firms looking to reduce sugar in baked goods, said Dr Ihab Bishay, senior director, business development and application innovation at Ajinomoto North America.
As customers have been working with samples for years, most have just been waiting for the FDA to give advantame the regulatory green light (click HERE) and are ready to push the button with new products, said Dr Bishay.
But do food manufacturers want another artificial sweetener?
While natural high intensity sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit have improved considerably since they first hit the market, they still present sensory challenges, and they are also expensive, especially in a bakery application where they may be combined with other zero or low calorie sweeteners to provide bulk, said Dr Bishay.
“Advantame has a very clean sweet taste, it blends well with sugar and high fructose corn syrup and as it is 20,000 times sweeter than sucrose, it’s also very cost effective.”
But what about Ajinomoto’s flagship ingredient aspartame? Given the recent dismal performance of diet cola and gum - two key end markets in North America - are sales of aspartame equally lackluster? No, said Dr Bishay.
“Our volumes of aspartame are still going up in the US, although growth is stronger in some other markets. While diet cola sales have been going down, other beverage categories using aspartame are still doing well, and we’re also seeing growth in yogurt and confectionery.”
So what’s his response to the relentless artificial sweetener-bashing employed by everyone from ‘natural’ food companies to consumer advocacy groups, despite the fact that aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested food ingredients and has been deemed safe by all major scientific and regulatory bodies?
There is no simple solution beyond trying to be transparent with consumers about what aspartame is, why it is beneficial, and why consumers can be confident that it is safe, he said. “But I don’t think it’s a losing battle.”
Finally, asked whether Ajinomoto is also looking at novel natural sweeteners, Dr Bishay would only say that the R&D team is “exploring all options” in the sweetening space.