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Swiss multinational Nestlé’s newest scientific breakthrough – the re-creation of sugar – could be what the packaged food industry has been seeking to help meet the demands of health-conscious consumers. The “new sugar” is restructured to have the same sugar exterior, which is what dissolves in the mouth and gives candy its sweetness, but less sugar on the inside. Nestlé will begin introducing the new sugar in its products in 2018.

“It is sugar, but it is assembled differently so it can disassemble easily in your mouth with less going into your gastrointestinal tract”, explains Chief Technology Officer Dr. Stefan Catsicas. Nestlé will initially use the product to reduce sugar in its confections by up to 40%.

The food industry has long sought to develop more healthy ways to sweeten products, and the mandate has taken on considerably more urgency in recent years. Given that Nestlé is the world’s largest packaged-food group, other big food companies may ramp up efforts to follow its lead by replicating its process, which Nestlé says is being patented.

If the sugar a success, Nestlé might look to sell it to other food companies, according to the New York Times. Its applications are somewhat limited, however. As Catsicas notes, “it is not something that can be mixed into your coffee.” Nor can it be used to sweeten soda.

Along with reducing sugar, Nestlé and other big players in the food industry are targeting fat and salt. Nestlé previously developed a way to reduce fat in ice cream, with a “slow-churned” line that is processed in a way that requires less fat to achieve the desired taste and mouth feel. In 2010, PepsiCo developed a salt molecule to allow it to use less sodium without affecting the taste of its snacks.

“It’s all about thinking: How can I expose my sensory system to the taste I’m looking for, but with the minimum of that ingredient — and without replacing it with something else”, Dr. Catsicas said. It’s an elusive goal, but processed food companies are under pressure.

Regarding the actual health impact of Nestlé’s new sugar, nutrition experts are dubious. Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University (with no connection to the company) points out that candy is not the biggest source of sugar in the diet. “That’s soda, and then what the Department of Agriculture calls grain-based desserts”, she said.

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