In addition to sugar substitutes, companies are developing food additives that enhance the sweetness of caloric (sugar, high-fructose corn syrup) or non-caloric (such as sucralose) sweeteners. These “sweetness enhancers” have the potential to reduce the amounts of sweeteners in foods while maintaining the same level of sweetness. They work by interacting with sweet receptors on the tongue, helping the receptor to stay switched “on” once activated by the sweetener, so that the receptors respond to a lower concentration of sweetener. Manufacturers are hoping they will be able to use such ingredients to reduce the calorie content of foods and beverages, as well as save money by buying less sugar and other sweeteners.
Companies are also developing additives that reduce the bitter aftertaste of artificial (such as saccharin and acesulfame-potassium) or natural (such as the rebiana A extracted from stevia leaves) sweeteners by blocking some of the approximately 30 bitterness receptors in taste buds. Currently, those off tastes discourage consumption of low-calorie or “diet” products.
Sweetness enhancers and bitterness blockers are not listed separately on ingredient labels, but are hidden under the term “artificial flavors”—even though they may not have any flavor themselves. Note also that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate the safety of flavor additives; it allows a scientific panel under the auspices of industry’s Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association to do that. However, sweetness enhancers and bitterness blockers are used at very low levels and are probably safe.
Other relevant links:
- Stay away from these three common sugar substitutes. See: Sugar in Food: Sugar Substitutes that You Should Avoid
- Sugar alcohols are safe, as long as you don’t eat too much. See: Sugar in Food: Sugar Substitutes that are Safe in Moderation
- Cut back on sugar and try one of these safe sugar substitutes. See: Sugar in Food: Sugar Substitutes that are Safe