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What about Sugar?

We all need to eat less sugar. It’s official. We’re in the midst of an obesity crisis with the NHS estimating that one in four adults in the UK are affected.

Sugar, being highly calorific and devoid of minerals and vitamins is currently public health enemy number 1. Eaten to excess it can lead to tooth decay and obesity and food manufacturers are, understandably, under pressure to address the problem.

New Government guidelines, issued on 30th March 2017, actively encourage food manufacturers to reduce sugar levels. Specifically, cakes should contain no more than 27.9g added sugar per 100g and single portions of cake should contain 325 kcal maximum.

So what are we at Honeybuns doing about sugar?

For two years now, we’ve been working out what we can achieve in terms of sugar reduction and replacement. It’s been an interesting and challenging process not least due to the seemingly constantly shifting emphases including free vs. intrinsic sugars, refined vs. unrefined, added vs. naturally occurring as well as total sugars.

It’s a journey we are happy to commit to. As producers of “indulgent treats” we have had to own our part of the sugar issue and invest in solutions.

Another fundamental challenge for us at Honeybuns has been to create baked treats that are lighter on the sugar without compromising on taste and enjoyment. Aside from being highly palatable, sugar also performs other functions in baking including caramalisation, structure, and preservation. To replace it with another single “magic bullet” ingredient is not realistic. So it was off to the Honeybuns test kitchen for two years trialling a wide range of potential alternatives to added sugar.

We’ll share the alternatives to sugar we’ve found & tested and how we’ve applied them. We’ll also share here our overarching aims on what Honeybuns will do regarding sugar.

To start, let’s take a look at some commonly used sugar terminology:

Free (or extrinsic) sugar vs. intrinsic sugar

OK, being honest, this took us a while to get our heads around. It’s much more of a thing in the US. When we first started liaising with both our local trading standards office and the Food Standards Agency they advised us not to pursue it, as it’s not widely understood here in the UK. I’m glad we stuck with it, as both the NHS & Action on Sugar cite free sugars as those to be actively avoided.

Definitions
Free sugars are, to quote the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN)
Free sugars = include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

Examples of non free sugars or intrinsic sugars in foods include dried fruit, fruit and vegetables and milk.

The logic is that if you eat an apple you are ingesting naturally occurring sugar accompanied by all the other components of the apple including dietary fibre, water and vitamins. The fibre creates bulk, which fills us up, and therefore helps limit the number of apples and quantity of sugar we’re likely to eat in one sitting.

The World Health Organisation’s guidelines on sugar consumption say that generally no more than 5% of our daily calories should come from free sugars (added sugars).

Added sugars

This term is used to describe the free sugars added to foods by manufacturers as opposed to any naturally occurring sugars in the ingredients. Added sugars can be measured whereas there is currently no test available to determine the ratio of free and non free sugars in food. It’s therefore more practical for food producers to focus on decreasing the amounts of added sugars. 

Refined vs. unrefined sugars

At Honeybuns, our customers tell us that they’d prefer to avoid refined white sugar. Naturally we were keen to give our customers what they wanted. An additional bonus is that the unrefined Demerara and light muscovado sugars we’ve introduced taste superior, with a wonderful depth of flavour.

We cannot, however, claim that unrefined sugars are healthier than their refined sugar counterparts. This is despite the plethora of articles and sites online claiming that “unrefined sugars” are significantly better for you. It is true that there are more vitamins and minerals in unrefined sugar but to get any nutritional benefit you would need to eat it in excess.

It has proved difficult to establish a definition of “refined sugar” even after making enquiries with, for example, Trading Standards, the FSA and sugar manufacturers.

Imperial sugar however helpfully provided us with this statement:

The sugar refining process happens in several stages. All Pure Cane Sugar starts at the same point:

  • The Sugar Cane is crushed between rollers to extract the juice.
  • The extracted juice is filtered and evaporated, then further purified by filtering and boiling to remove molasses and colour.
  • The crystals are spun in a centrifuge and evaporated.

At this point we have unrefined sugar (also referred to as turbinado or unprocessed sugar) which is available for purchase in this form. The unrefined sugar then continues to a refinery where it is washed, filtered and any non-sugar ingredients removed. The refined sugar is then further processed into granulated form, dried and packaged.

Strictly speaking, anything other than sugar in its natural form, be it beet, cane, coconut, has been refined to a certain extent. The defining step in creating a refined white sugar is the washing and filtering.

Honeybuns targets on sugar

  • We support the current government guidelines which recommend the reduction of added sugars by 20% by 2020.
     
  • We are committed to liaise closely with Action on Sugar who campaign to reduce added sugars in food. For example, we are currently reformulating our Fruity Nut Bar which is already low in added sugars (approx 9%) to meet the recommended limit of 5% maximum added sugar.
     
  • We will continue to be honest and transparent about the sugar in our products. We make indulgent treats rather than health bars. At the same time, we are committed to attaining lower calories per pack and fewer calories from sugar (meeting the government guidelines of 27.9g added sugar per 100g and single portions of cake containing no more than 325 calories).

How do we do this?

  • We are replacing any dried fruits with added sugar, for instance cranberries, with unsweetened dried fruit.
     
  • We are trialling Stevia in one or two toppings which would bring the total added sugars per portion down on certain products.
     
  • We are constantly researching new and innovative ingredients which can also help us to bring total sugars down. Our Belgian chocolate manufacturer is soon to launch a chocolate with 40% less sugar and we’re keen to trial this.
     
  • We have a target of 25-27g per 100g of added sugar for any new products being developed.
     
  • In response to requests from customers, the New Generation Range was launched in smaller portions than our Classic Range, 56g-64g rather than 75-85g. The calories per pack vary between 200 and 260. Calories will start to appear front of pack this year.
     
  • Also in response to requests from customers, we will be reducing the portion size of the classic range to 56g-64g by April 2018.

What sweeteners do Honeybuns use and why?

We use the following sweeteners in our New Generation Range:

Date paste No free sugars. It’s a great substitute for caramel.

Date syrup Great flavour, does contain free sugars but does also have nutritive value (as opposed to zero nutritive value of refined sugar).

Apricot puree Great flavour and creates a lovely soft eating texture. Has nutritive value.

Raspberry puree Free sugars (see above).

Unrefined icing sugar As requested by our customers who prefer unrefined.

Conclusion

We have accepted the challenge to reduce sugars and specifically, free (or added) sugars, in our New Generation range of cakes. We are not claiming that these cakes are healthy. They are still treats and will still include sugar of different types.

We need to address sugar levels whilst at the same time offering delicious cakes that satisfy our desire for something sweet. We will continue to research and trial new ingredients to help achieve our aims.

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