Sugar-free, zero calorie jelly in the works
It's a diabetic's and a dieter's dream, but is a healthy jelly possible? Researchers at K-State say it is
By Mark Berry
K-State researchers John Khouryich, above left, and Fadi Aramouni are working to perfect a sugar-free, calorie-free jelly.
In the quest for healthy versions of favorite snack foods, Kansas State University researchers may have reached the ultimate: a sugar-free, calorie-free jelly.
K-State food scientists are fine-tuning the red, strawberry-flavored jelly. That's no small task, considering most jellies are 65 to 70 percent sugar, according to Fadi Aramouni, associate professor of food science.
Kansas companies requested that Aramouni develop sugar-free jellies. Jellies labeled as sugar-free have some kind of sweetener like fruit juice, fructose or sugar alcohol, Aramouni said. While these versions do have lower calories and sugar, the K-State jelly takes it a step further, with no sugar or calories found in the jelly at all. They have also tried grape and apple jellies.
"Somebody can say they are sugar free, no sugar added, but because they use the juice, the juice naturally has sugar," said graduate student John Khouryich, who helped develop the no-sugar jelly in Aramouni's lab.
It is the rise in the number of diabetics, who typically must control their sugar and caloric intakes, which makes their work so important. Diabetes contributed to 192,000 deaths in 1996, Aramouni said, and afflicts more than 15 million people in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association.
"In past 10 years there has been a 50 percent rise in number of diabetics. It's phenomenal in terms of health diseases, especially ones that are diet-related," Aramouni said. "If you are diabetic and you are thinking about reducing your sugar level, I think you would prefer something that tastes good and has no sugar and calories."
The researchers use two recently developed sweeteners in their jelly -- sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than sugar, and acesulfame-K, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
"These are really good sweeteners, because they are stable and provide a clean mouth feel, but we did not see any jelly products on the market using those," Aramouni said.
Unfortunately, it takes more than a powerful sweetener to make a good jelly. Sugar also adds bulk. Since sucralose is so strong, one-half of a gram of it may be used to replace 200 grams of sugar. The scientists had to find something to take up that space. Sugar also binds water to the jelly, keeping it from separating like oil and water do. Sugar even acts as a preservative, preventing bacteria and mold from growing in jelly.
Aramouni's lab had to find ingredients that could fill in the many jobs sugar usually does, and also had to replace the color and aroma of strawberry.
"If you are only replacing sweetness, it's not that big of a deal. That is probably our smallest challenge," Aramouni said. "The real challenge for food scientists is that sugar plays so many other important roles in the food process. That's why you don't find many products out there that are acceptable to people."
The researchers are happy with the color, flavor and sweetness of their jelly, but it's not quite ready for the public.
"We're still a little bit worried about the mouth feel," Aramouni said. "It hits your mouth and then it dissolves suddenly. You like the flavor and the color, but then it's gone. It doesn't linger."
History indicates that Aramouni will be able to overcome the problem. He has made a low-calorie caramel corn and a sugar-free barbecue sauce that won second place last year in the Food Product Development division of the Institute of Food Technologists.
His newest project is low-calorie, sugar-free baked goods and desserts, including cookie mixes, cheesecake, muffins and scones. All of these products were developed at the request of Kansas companies to expand their product lines, Aramouni said.