April 2020 Issue
Sweeteners: Fruit Juice Sweeteners
By Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN
Vol. 22, No. 4, P. 16
Do they deserve their health halo?
Sweeteners made from concentrated fruit juice aren’t new to the food supply—think apple juice concentrate in juice blends, cereal bars, and granola—but their use today is more nuanced.
Historically, juice concentrates such as orange, grape, and apple were sold in cans in the freezer section for consumers to reconstitute with water at home. Today, juice concentrates are available in a wider variety of formats, including shelf-stable bottles and cartons, as well as a broader range of flavors. Manufacturers often position cherry, berry, pomegranate, and other phytochemical-rich juice concentrates for their functional properties rather than as sweeteners for home use.
When used as a food ingredient, fruit sweeteners appeal to manufacturers and consumers alike as “natural” alternatives to sugar. Unlike sugar and other nutritive sweeteners, they may not need to be listed as added sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel, depending on the application. They’re a boon for manufacturers looking to replace the negative image of high-fructose corn syrup with a more natural-sounding ingredient.
But fruit juice concentrates do resemble nutritive sweeteners in one major way: They add calories and carbohydrates to foods and beverages.
Ingredient manufacturers dominate the marketplace for juice concentrates used as sweeteners. Products are suitable for a wide range of applications—not only beverages but also dairy products, ice cream, cereals, snack bars, and confectionery. Manufacturer websites call out key benefits and marketable advantages associated with fruit juice concentrates, namely that they can count toward a portion of a fruit serving in a food or a beverage and that products sweetened with a fruit juice concentrate can state that they contain “real” or “natural” fruit juice.
Northwest Naturals, LLC, a Bothell, Washington–based subsidiary of juice manufacturer Tree Top, offers full lines of conventional and organic juice concentrates with and without added natural or organic flavors. Most of these are formulated primarily for reconstitution into juice. The company’s fruit concentrate syrups are positioned as sweeteners. They’re processed to remove fruit solids, leaving them with little or no flavor, color, or acidity and making them a suitable replacement for high-fructose corn syrup. The Tree Top website encourages consumers to use its apple juice concentrate as a sweetener or to bring out the fruit flavors in a variety of foods and beverages.
Döhler, a German manufacturer with offices in the United States, describes its MultiSweet Fruit as 100% fruit sugar that has been deacidified, decolorized, and deionized without chemical additives. Stated benefits include a low glycemic index and the potential for claiming a product’s “natural sweetness from 100% fruit.”
Nature’s Flavors, based in Orange, California, recommends its fruit sweetener for baking, yogurt making, and creating nutraceutical beverages from single or combinations of juice concentrates.
ADM, based in Chicago, produces Fruit Up fruit syrup through a physical extraction technology that doesn’t require additives, chemicals, or enzymatic treatment. Among the benefits highlighted by ADM are consumer appeal of products with fruit-derived sweetness, sugar reduction and replacement, enhanced mouthfeel, and compatibility when used in combination with nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners.
Depending on the degree of processing, fruit juice sweeteners contribute primarily carbohydrates in the form of sugars. Producers use the term Brix—ie, the percentage of sugar in 100 g of the product (such as a syrup or concentrate)—to describe both degree of sweetness and amount of sugar. A product that is 70° Brix, for example, has 70 g sugar per 100 g.
Concentrates made from nutrient-dense fruits also will deliver bioactive ingredients potentially associated with health benefits. The nutrient profile of juice concentrates intended to be reconstituted into juice—for example, orange juice concentrate—resembles that of their fresh counterparts. Classic fruit juice sweeteners have been stripped of most of their fruit and primarily contain sugars. Fructose, the dominant sweetener, carries a glycemic index of 19, compared with 65 for sucrose.
Critics emphasize the lack of nutritive value of fruit juice sweeteners and have argued that, while fruit juice concentrates may seem more healthful and more natural than high-fructose corn syrup, they supply empty calories and lack the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber of whole fruit.1
A 2012 examination of the role of fruit juice concentrates in the US food supply found that foods and beverages containing fruit juice concentrates as the only sweeteners have about the same concentration of sugar as, but more total sugar than, products sweetened with other nutritive sweeteners.2
Added Sugar Labeling
The introduction of the new Nutrition Facts panel raises questions about fruit juice concentrates and the methodology for including them as added sugars on food labels. The USDA defines added sugars in the Nutrition Facts label final rule as sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as sugars.3
Whether fruit juice sweeteners are listed as added sugars depends on how they’re used; the following applications don’t require counting towards grams of added sugars:
• concentrated 100% juices that are sold to consumers specifically to be reconstituted into juice;
• commercial fruit juices manufactured from juice concentrate and water;
• fruit juice concentrates that contribute to a declaration of total juice percentage in a juice drink that contains fruit juice concentrate alone or with juice;
• juice concentrates that are added to standardize Brix; and
• concentrates that comprise the fruit component of jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads.
In contrast, concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are “in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type” must be included in added sugar calculations. If a batch of apple juice, for example, contains less than its USDA minimum Brix of 11.5°, a manufacturer can add apple juice concentrate to standardize sugar content without having to count the concentrate as added sugars.4 The USDA requires manufacturers to maintain written records of the amount of sugars added to a food or a beverage during processing and of the source(s) of Brix values used for any calculations.
Guidance for Clients
When advising clients on consumption of fruit juice sweeteners, RDs should consider the sweetener’s function in a product—that is, to sweeten (eg, in a baked good) vs contribute the flavors and features of juice (eg, in fruit spreads). When fruit juice sweeteners are used as sweeteners rather than juice concentrates, clients should consider their use to be similar to that of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other nutritive sweeteners that contribute little or no nutrition beyond calories, carbohydrates, and sugar.
“There is a big difference between natural sugar that occurs within a whole food, such as fruit, and sugars, including fruit juice sweeteners, that are added by manufacturers,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table, who can be found @bonnietaubdix on Instagram.
For sweetness, Taub-Dix expects to see greater use of fruit purées—which aren’t considered added sugars—rather than fruit juice sweeteners.
For clients with diabetes, calculating the impact of fruit juice concentrates is a little more complicated. Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and coauthor of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, notes that, while added sugars are important, “people with diabetes need to look at total grams of carbohydrate on the food label. Many people focus on grams of sugar (total sugar or added sugars), but total grams of carbohydrate is the more important number in terms of diabetes management. Sugar grams are included in the carbohydrate total. Although fruit concentrates may not count toward added sugars, they do have carbohydrate that makes a difference in day-to-day management of blood glucose.”
— Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, is a food and nutrition communications consultant in metro New York.
1. Added sweeteners. Harvard Health Publishing website. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/added-sweeteners. Published October 2006.
2. Ng SW, Slining MM, Popkin BM. Sweeteners in the US food supply and the role of fruit juice concentrates (FJC). FASEB J. 2012;26(Suppl 1).
3. US Food and Drug Administration. Nutrition and supplement facts labels: questions and answers related to the compliance date, added sugars, and declaration of quantitative amounts of vitamins and minerals: guidance for industry. https://www.fda.gov/media/117402/download. Updated December 2019.
4. Title 21: food and drugs: part 101 — food labeling. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations website. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=97e7ded485396a5d651f7abe280ed9bf&mc=true&node=pt21.2.101&rgn=div5. Updated February 10, 2020.