New Sugar Substitutes Discovered in Citrus
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A new study from researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) suggests a natural sweetener could be obtained from citrus fruit.
For the love of sugar
Sugars occur in all foods that possess carbohydrates, including fruit and vegetables, dairy and grains. While consumption of some sugar in your diet is inevitable, a super sweet tooth can come at a cost; excess consumption can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers and cognitive decline.
To combat the effects of excess sugar consumption, scientists have been searching for sugar alternatives that do not cause harm to the body and aren’t calorific. These substitutes may be artificial sweeteners – such as saccharin or sucralose – or natural sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners are favored for their low-calorie profiles, they can adversely affect a food’s flavor, sometimes leaving a “metallic” aftertaste. Naturally occurring sweeteners can be difficult to obtain from fruits, and are also associated with a sometimes bizarre aftertaste, described as “licorice-like”.
Artificial sweeteners vs natural sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substitutes for sugar that may be derived from substances that occur naturally, such as a plant, herb or sugar.
Natural sweeteners are the sugars that are found to naturally occur in foods, such as glucose and fructose. Natural sweeteners, such as honey, may be added to foods to enhance the sweet taste.
Searching for a tasty, non-calorific sugar substitute has not been an easy feat. In a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers at UF/IFAS used a metabolomics-based approach to screen citrus fruit for sweeteners, or sweetness-enhancing compounds.
“Citrus is considered a good potential source of noncaloric sweeteners, but to date, only one sweetness modulator has been found in this most common fruit crop,” the authors say.
Over a multi-year project, the team – led by Dr. Yu Wang, associate professor of food science at UF/IFAS – made a breakthrough, identifying eight new sweetener or sweetness-enhancing compounds in 11 citrus cultivars.
"We were able to identify a natural source for an artificial sweetener, oxime V, that had never been identified from any natural source previously,” says Wang. “This creates expanded opportunities for citrus growers and for breeding cultivars to be selected to obtain high yields of sweetener compounds.”
The research project also demonstrated the value of adopting a metabolomics-based strategy, which the scientists say “could greatly boost the identification of taste modulators with low contents in natural resources.”
Reference: Wang Z, Gmitter FG, Grosser JW, Wang Y. Natural sweeteners and sweetness-enhancing compounds identified in citrus using an efficient metabolomics-based screening strategy. J Agric Food Chem. 2022;70(34):10593-10603. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.2c03515.
This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Material has been edited for length and content.