Deliver the same mouthwatering taste AND reduce sugar in cookies and biscuits

Overview: You want to create a reduced sugar version of your customer’s favorite cookie—but how do you fill in the gaps that sugar reduction leaves behind? Discover what you need to consider to formulate a cookie that satisfies consumers and keeps them coming back for more.  

Technical reformulation considerations for reducing or eliminating sugar

The demand for reduced sugar products continues to grow, making the elimination or reduction of sugar in cookies and sweet biscuits a priority for many brands. Among consumers, there’s a growing appetite for these products as more individuals eliminate added sugar and reduce calories in their diets for health and wellness purposes. There is also pressure coming from governments around the world as more regulations are passed to add taxes on products with high sugar content and restrictions on how these products are labeled.

Since 2017, the growth of new product launches in sweet cookies/ sweet biscuits with no sugar, low sugar, reduced sugar, or no sugar added claims has increased 55% globally.1

Formulating a reduced sugar cookie isn’t as straightforward as removing sugar, or sucrose, from the recipe. As an ingredient, sugar performs a number of important roles in product recipes. Reducing or eliminating it in your product without compromising taste or texture is a balancing act. In this article, you’ll learn about some of the key functions of sugar in a cookie recipe and what you’ll need to consider to fill in the gaps when it’s removed from your product. 

The functional purpose of sugar 

Sugar serves many functions in baked goods beyond sweetness, so removing it poses more than one challenge to address. These are some of the key functions of sugar in cookies.

  1. Imparts firmness and texture. Cookies are typically low moisture systems. During the baking process, the moisture evaporates. Sugar contributes to some of the moisture retention, which directly relates to the firmness and texture you expect from your recipe. 
  2. Develops browning responsible for color and flavor. During the baking process, a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction takes place between the amino acids and reducing sugars. This is what helps a cookie develop its distinctive golden-brown color and delicious smell. 
  3. Contributes to spread and stack height. Sugar affects the extent of spread and stack height in cookies by delaying the gelatinization temperature of starch that’s found in the flour. 
  4. Provides structure and aeration.  The process of creaming sugar and butter together creates pockets of air in the cookie dough. While the cookie is baked, these air pockets expand, affecting final texture.

Filling in the gaps when sugar is removed

There are two key elements to consider when reducing or replacing sugar in formulations.

  1. Sweetness: Sugar has the right intensity, right onset, and right duration of sweetness that consumers are famliiar with.
  2. Functional build back: These are the structural and textural attributes that sugar lends to the products as described above. 

Brands often want to reduce the sugar in a cookie their customers already know and love, so there’s a lot to consider to achieve the comparable texture, taste, sweetness profile, and even size of the product.

Ingredion can help fill in these gaps, creating a solution that balances all of the many elements—cost, regulatory, and labeling considerations—in order to achieve the desired end result.

Gap: Functional build back

It’s rare that a single ingredient will be able to serve as a full replacement for sugar’s functionality. Ingredion takes a formulated systems approach in order to address functional build back. With our wide portfolio of ingredients, including but not limited to—rare sugars, low sugar syrups, fibers, oligosaccharides, and polyols — Ingredion can help brands achieve reduced sugar products with comparable eating experiences to the full sugar counterparts.

When Ingredion puts together a sugar replacement solution on the functional build back side, we consider:

  • The characteristics and performance of each solution individually, and how it can work together in the best way
  • The digestion mechanism of individual solutions and how to develop strategies to combine them without generating digestive stress in the body
  • Regulatory limitations on each ingredient, if any
  • Last, but definitely not least, the cost

Each of these elements play a critical role in the balancing act that comes with replacing sugar—and it’s all connected. There are trade-offs to consider when using low-calorie alternatives to sugar. 

Ingredion’s approach is to understand the performance of each individual ingredient, so we know how different combinations will work together to solve a sugar reduction challenge. Part of the approach is to use combinations of ingredients that don’t digest in the same way in order to optimize digestive tolerance. Another part of the approach is to understand how much of an ingredient can be used in different geographies, so your product is in compliance.  

No matter which ingredients are combined, the goal is for your cookies to have the comparable taste and texture as your full-sugar recipe. Ingredion can take an overall view of your process and determine if tweaks should be made to achieve the desired end result. For example, polyols don’t brown as much as sugar, while allulose browns more than sugar. These effects can be optimized by either using a combined systems approach or adjusting process conditions, such as bake time and temperature, and even making small adjustments to the other ingredients in the formulation. It is important to note that while doing these adjustments you will still want to make sure the major properties of your cookies, such as moisture, are comparable to its full sugar counterpart. In other words, each tweak to the process or ingredients in the formulation and every new sugar alternative brings about a domino effect, which is why solutions to sugar reduction can very quickly become complex.

Ingredion has the expertise to think outside of these systems to help solve the holistic challenge—from ingredients to process—to help you get to end product you desire.

Gap: Sweetness and flavor

Sugar is the gold standard for sweetness. This means that it offers the right potency, the right onset, and right duration of sweetness. When sugar dissolves in your mouth, the sweetness comes on, rises, and then drops off in a unique and characterizing way, and this distinct profile is what consumers expect to experience when they’re tasting something sweet. With replacement sweeteners, sometimes the onset of sweetness arrives too early or too late. Some high potency sweeteners also linger in your mouth longer than expected after the cookie is consumed. Finally, the sweetness of sucrose compliments characteristic aromas associated with baked goods, like vanilla and butter, and so the overall flavor profile of the product often changes when alternative sweeteners are used.

The sweetness scale

Sugar replacers have different sweetness values compared to sugar. For instance, high potency sweeteners, like stevia are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Common fibers, like inulin, polydextrose, and soluble corn fibers don’t possess much sweetness and typically have 10-30% of the sweetness of sucrose. Sweetness of polyols, such as sorbitol, maltitol, erythriol, and rare sugars, such as allulose and tagatose, range around 50-90% of sucrose.

You need to build the sweetness up and consider the potency of the sweeteners you’re using to replace sugar, so you can mimic the intensity as closely as possible. For instance, if you’re using stevia as the replacement, you’ll need a lot less of the product (ppm levels), due to how many more times sweeter it is than sugar on the sweetness scale. 

A successful reduced sugar formulation should also rebalance for other flavors besides sweetness.  Stevia flavor modifiers are one of several tools that can be used to accomplish this – in addition to providing sweetness, some stevia products can enhance or modulate specific aromatics that are often left muted after removing sugar. 

Mimicking sugar’s sweetness profile is a balancing act in itself. You’ll need to consider if you can replace sugar with one high potency sweetener, or if you need a blend of multiple in order to achieve the same gold standard sweetness and aroma profiles your customers have come to love in your product.

Clean label consideration

How these ingredients appear on the label is another important consideration, as you don’t want your reduced sugar product to be perceived as less healthy or less natural due to a long list of ingredients. At Ingredion, we have the toolkit to help you achieve what you’re looking for on your label with the least amount of ingredient solutions. There are trade-offs for different sugar reduction solutions and Ingredion can help you understand what these are, including helping you understand the use of these ingredients in different geographies.

Keeping costs in check

Underpinning all of this is cost. Sugar replacers, such as rare sugars like allulose, fibers, oligosaccharides, and polyols, are typically more expensive to use than sugar, so while a replacement blend may work in theory, the overall cost of the solution needs to be factored in when selecting the right sugar replacement. Ingredion can help you achieve the delicate balance between your cost goals and the right sugar reduction solution.

Explore sugar reduction solutions with experts at Ingredion

Sugar reduction is a complex endeavor—and it doesn’t end with sugar. There are corn syrups, fruit sugars, and other elements to consider in other applications such as cakes, bars, and gummies. No matter what your application, Ingredion has the expertise to create a system that takes all of these elements into consideration to help you deliver a delicious product. 

Contact us to learn more.


1 Innova, 2017-2021

About the authors

Didem Icoz: - Didem leads the global sugar reduction applications team and drives key pipeline and research projects while supporting global go-to-market teams. She contributes to Ingredion’s sugar reduction & specialty sweeteners business strategy by identifying key areas of growth, building networks internally and externally, and closely partnering with the global teams to execute strategic plans. Didem holds a Ph.D. in Food Science from Rutgers University, and M.S. and B.S. degrees in Food Engineering from Middle East Technical University in Turkey.

Trisha Terry:- Trisha is a Senior Project Leader on the global sugar reduction applications team specializing in stevia. She leads the go-to-market technical strategy for the sugar reduction & specialty sweeteners for global key accounts. Trisha holds a M.S. in Food Science from University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a B.S. in Food Science from Iowa State University.