Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Silicon Valley, California
Splenda 101 - from San Francisco Chronicle
We had a Splenda thread in the LWL forum - this article was so good, I didn't want anyone to miss it.
Carb counters have embraced it. Millions are buying it. But what does it taste like? And how does it behave in the kitchen?
- Carol Ness, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Piled high with cupcakes, brownies and creme brulee, a high-powered trio of Bay Area pastry chefs arrived in The Chronicle test kitchen to put the artificial sweetener Splenda through its paces.
Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake, Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Carolyn Weil, a baking teacher, were here to help evaluate this Atkins-fueled phenomenon, which in just three years on the market has eaten its competition -- including sugar -- alive.
Splenda is the first no-calorie, no-carbohydrate sweetener whose sweetness doesn't change when it's heated. Unlike aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet 'N Low), it can be used in cooking and baking, and carb- conscious home cooks are gobbling it up.
Our chefs, purists by philosophy and nature, were skeptical, but happy to lend their talents and palates to the test. Each arrived with three batches of desserts they'd whipped up in their kitchens, one each made with sugar, Splenda and a blend of the two. They bruleed the custards and test-baked some more cookies.
Just as the tasting began, the brownies made with Splenda thudded out of their pan in one thin, dense square.
"It looks like a pot holder," cracked Falkner. "Or a floor tile," said Luchetti.
But the intent of the tests was serious. We were checking out both the taste and performance of a new sweetener that, with obesity and diabetes rampant, Americans are using in huge amounts to cut carbs, control blood sugar and lose weight.
As of midsummer, Splenda accounted for almost half the supermarket sales of sugar substitutes in the United States, according to IRI, a Chicago market research company. Cookbooks with recipes for Splenda blintzes and cakes are proliferating. And sucralose, the sweetener in Splenda, is the new darling of food manufacturers, showing up in commercial baked goods and sodas, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi's new mid-calorie colas.
Sucralose was discovered in a British lab in the 1970s, and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998. As Splenda, it went on the U.S. market in 2000.
Sucralose claims a clean chemical pedigree because it is made from sucrose, a natural sugar (see diagram above). Chlorine is added to the sucrose, and a chemical reaction changes the sucrose molecule to replace some of the hydrogen-oxygen groups with chlorine. That prevents the body from metabolizing it in the same way as it does sugar.
This also allows Splenda's U.S. manufacturers, McNeil Nutritionals, part of Johnson & Johnson, to state on the label that it's "made from sugar," suggesting that it's natural.
The addition of chlorine also has provoked Splenda's critics to call it a chlorocarbon, a chemical found in pesticides.
In fact, Splenda is neither natural nor a pesticide. It's a new chemical. Studies have shown that it causes no immediate health problems, But most of these studies have been done by the manufacturer, and no one yet knows what long-term ingestion of large amounts might do over a lifetime.
Whole Foods Markets compares the altered sucrose to hydrogenated fats (trans fats), the chemically changed fat molecules that won broad acceptance only to be found unhealthy after decades of use. The grocery chain declines to sell either.
Is it healthy?
Splenda is being marketed as healthy, "ideal for the whole family." TV ads during the Olympics showed happy children with cookie hearts and doughnuts made with Splenda. Soccer star Mia Hamm was featured in an earlier ad campaign.
Many dietitians find sucralose and other artificial sweeteners useful for their clients.
"I don't have any problems with my diabetics or those who would like to lose weight using Splenda," as long as diabetics count their carbs and dieters count their calories, says Nancy Bennett, a San Francisco dietitian.
"The big picture is, what poses more risk -- the untreated diabetes or the (yellow) stuff?" says Bennett, who uses Splenda in her coffee.
Other dietitians, though, say artificial sweeteners trigger cravings for sweet treats, making it difficult to diet or control blood sugar. Or they point out that sweeteners substitute a non-nutritive food for one that has vitamins and other nutrients -- for example, a Splenda muffin might have the same number of carbs as an apple, but the apple is better for you.
For diabetics with a sweet tooth who like to cook but want to avoid sugar, Splenda has been a godsend.
"I wasted a lot of time and ingredients baking with other things," says Allison Salzman Cozzi, a 50-year-old Concord woman with diabetes.
Cozzi knows that as a diabetic it's total carbohydrates, not sugar per se, that she needs to limit. But replacing sugar with Splenda lets her eat more of other foods she likes. "It's like free money," she says.
Other diabetics who choose to manage their blood sugar by eating whole foods disagree. Many say they'd rather have half a muffin made with sugar, a natural food that tastes better, than a whole muffin made with Splenda.
When it comes to flavor, Splenda has a reputation of outshining its competitors.
Marilee McGregor of Walnut Creek, a director of the American Diabetes Association, says she finds Splenda pleasantly less sweet than aspartame or saccharin.
"It's like a bran muffin instead of a blueberry muffin. A blueberry muffin says sweeeeeet; a bran muffin says healthy," she says. "It's the best thing on the market."
Cozzi prefers Splenda, too. Perhaps because she grew up in a family that used artificial sweeteners routinely, she doesn't notice off-tastes in any of them.
Not so for The Chronicle food staff. We tasted Splenda, Equal, Sweet 'N Low and sugar, in coffee, lemonade, sliced fruit, cookies and creme brulee. We preferred the clean taste of sugar in all.
Among the artificial sweeteners, though, we leaned toward Splenda. The others were either too sweet, tasted chemical or bitter, or had strong aftertastes. But despite our preference for Splenda, we found it left behind an unpleasant, lingering fake sweetness.
With the three pastry chefs, we also tasted our way through the desserts they'd made -- cookies, brownies, cupcakes, ice cream and creme brulee, made with sugar, Splenda and a blend.
Taste was definitely an issue with the desserts made with both the Splenda and the blend. We noticed that after our first bite, Splenda's sweetness took a few moments to come on, and then it was concentrated on the very tip of the tongue, never reaching the rest of our taste buds.
"It has no depth," said Falkner.
The sweetness also seemed to block other flavors. The egg yolks, cream and vanilla in the ice cream and creme brulee simply disappeared, and even the cocoa in the brownies barely came through.
And then an odd sweetness lingered in our mouths long -- even hours -- after the food was gone.
Splenda works as advertised in sauces and other liquids, and when cooked with fruit. But because sucralose's chemical structure differs from sugar's, it bakes up very differently. Sugar provides more than sweetness -- it also adds moisture and bulk, and browns. Splenda doesn't.
Granular Splenda, which measures tablespoon-for-tablespoon like sugar, is mostly the fluffy filler maltodextrin, which melts away to almost nothing when added to liquid or heated.
Most baking recipes need changes to replace sugar with Splenda. Otherwise, the results will be dry, dense and pale.
Giving Splenda help
This isn't news to Splenda's manufacturer, which has posted tips for baking with Splenda on its Web site. Among them: increase flour and leavening to lighten cakes, and spritz the tops of cookies with cooking spray to help them brown. (See "Cooking with Splenda" tips, this page.)
The new Splenda-sugar blend was created to address these shortcomings.
McGregor used Splenda in a family pecan pie recipe and found she only had to add about a half-cup more of the sweetener to make it taste like her grandmother's. But she's learned that she can't use it in souffles, because they don't rise.
But for pastry chefs like Falkner, Luchetti and Weil, working with Splenda was like a trip to an alternate universe where nothing went as it should. They found a pattern with the baked items. The ones made with the sugar rose, had a moist, light texture and browned nicely. The ones made with Splenda were flat, dense and dry. The Splenda-sugar blend improved the texture and added moisture, but the results didn't match sugar.
The brownies were a good example. Weil made them using a basic Fannie Farmer recipe. The batch made with sugar baked up into a rich square, about an inch thick, with a moist looking top that had some give when pressed with a finger. They tasted rich and fudgy.
The Splenda-blend brownies rose less and unevenly, had a rubbery feeling and were dry. They tasted better than the all-Splenda batch, but the cocoa flavor was muted and they left an aftertaste.
The Splenda batch was flat, dense as a board, incredibly dry and tasteless, but with a sweet aftertaste.
The chefs also ran into problems with the non-baked desserts, vanilla ice cream and creme brulee. The Splenda left the ice cream so hard it broke into shards when scooped, and made a custard that Luchetti said "looks like airline scrambled eggs."
Using the blend vastly improved the texture of both; they were smoother and creamier. But still, if either had been made in the Citizen Cake or Farallon kitchen, the chefs would have demanded to know "what happened here?"
Bottom line: "It just doesn't perform as well, and it doesn't have the taste" or the texture of sugar, says Falkner. And the taste leaves you wanting something more.
"You're just so much more satisfied when you eat the real deal," she says.
Weil, who had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant, knows the ups and downs of blood sugar. "If you bake with Splenda, you still have to count all the other calories," she points out.
Again, the brownies tell the story. The ones made with sugar had 161 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates; the Splenda brownies had 101 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrates. Both brownies had 8 grams of fat. The brownie made with the blend saved just 23 calories, but the texture and flavor were inferior.
For people who are counting every carb, the savings matter. Cozzi says her blood sugar levels have been stellar and "I attribute that to the presence of Splenda around me. I use it every day."
For the chefs, the trade-off in pleasure delivered by a sweet treat isn't worth it. At Citizen Cake's bakery counter, customers sometimes ask Falkner to make them a Splenda cake. She tells them, "I'll make you half a real cake."
Adds Luchetti, "It's like, would you rather have one great glass of wine or four glasses of bad wine?"
Diabetes, she says, is one thing, but most people just need to eat less.
Why no recipes?
The Food section tested several recipes with Splenda and with a Splenda- sugar blend. Three of the recipes came from the Splenda Web site; others were basic recipes in which we substituted Splenda for sugar.
None of the dishes met our test-kitchen standards (though the Splenda- sugar blend worked fairly well in custard and ice cream). So we are not printing any recipes with our Splenda story today.
However, those wishing to cook with Splenda can find many recipes on the company's Web site: www.splenda.com.
Cooking with Splenda
Elizabeth Falkner, chef at Citizen Cake, Emily Luchetti of Farallon and baking teacher Carolyn Weil can't believe how badly the Splenda brownies came out. Chronicle photo by Craig Lee
Our cooking tests and the Splenda Web site taught us a few things about cooking and baking with Splenda. Generally, it works best when its function is only to sweeten, as in sauces, marinades, pie fillings and beverages. In recipes where sugar would add bulk, texture, moisture and browning, adjustments must be made if Splenda is used instead. Here are some tips:
Candy and frosting -- Because sugar is crucial to taste and structure, Splenda's makers recommend replacing only one-quarter of it with Splenda.
Brown sugar -- If a recipe calls for brown sugar, you can use molasses mixed into Splenda. Cookie dough was stickier than usual but otherwise OK.
Creaming -- When making cookies, Splenda creams well into butter, but adding eggs turns the mixture wet and lumpy, like cottage cheese. When flour is added, this problem disappears.
Spreading -- Splenda doesn't spread, so flatten cookies before baking.
Texture -- Replace only the white sugar in cookie recipes that use brown sugar too, to keep a chewy crunch.
Yeast activation -- Splenda won't do it, so add at least 2 teaspoons sugar.
Rising -- Splenda alone in cupcakes and brownies doesn't rise much; add 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda per cup of Splenda.
Flavor -- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla per cup of Splenda in cookies and puddings; a little honey or molasses will boost flavor in muffins.
Browning -- Splenda's makers recommend using cooking spray to help cookies brown, but we didn't find it helped much.
Bruleeing -- Splenda doesn't caramelize, so it won't brulee. If using the baking blend, the sugar caramelizes but the Splenda stays separate and burns.
Bake time -- Reduce when using Splenda by 7 to 10 minutes for cakes, 3 to 5 minutes for cookies.
Storage -- Sugar helps preserve foods and retains moisture; wrap Splenda-baked goods well and freeze if you won't eat them within a day.
Sugar substitutes are not all Equal
Splenda is one of many artificial sweeteners on the market. They're also called low-calorie, no-calorie and non-nutritive sweeteners. Some have no calories, others have half as many as sugar or more. Here's a quick look at the other sweeteners:
-- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) -- Made by combining two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Has no calories. Used widely in soft drinks. Considered generally safe, but some people say it causes headaches, and those with a rare disease called phenylketonuria (PKU) must not consume it. It dissolves easily. Cookies we baked with it didn't taste sweet, but a custard did; bruleeing turned it bitter. Strong aftertaste.
-- Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low) -- A synthetic chemical discovered in a lab by mistake. Has no calories. Long known to cause cancer in rats, the FDA tried to ban it, then changed its mind. Recently linked to bladder cancer in humans in a National Cancer Institute study. Supersweet, so hard to measure. Made lemonade, custard and strawberries too sweet. Doesn't brulee. Strong aftertaste.
-- Sugar alcohols -- Xylitol, maltitol, sorbitol and other polyols are made by adding hydrogen atoms to sugar. Depending on how they're metabolized, they can range from no calories up to three-fourths those in sugar. Widely used in sugar-free candies and many low-carb sweets. Main drawback is that consuming more than just a little causes gas, bloating and diarrhea.
-- Acesulfame-K (Sweet One) -- Formally it's acesulfame potassium, a chemical that's not metabolized so has no calories. Found in combination with aspartame in soft drinks and many other products, including the new Equal baking blend. Approved by the FDA in 1988. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says tests intended to show it doesn't cause cancer have been ambiguous and so this sweetener needs more study.
-- Stevia -- A powerful sweetener derived from the leaves of a South American shrub that can be grown locally. Popular as a natural alternative to synthetic sweeteners. Active ingredient, stevioside, is 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Sold as a dietary supplement, but not approved for use in foods in the United States, Canada or Europe because some studies have linked stevia to reproductive problems in rats. Further testing is awaited.
-- Neotame -- New sweetener made from the same amino acids as aspartame, but with a stronger chemical bond and 30 to 40 times as sweet. Approved in 2002.
-- Tagatose -- Another new one, made from lactose and marketed as Naturlose. Hit the U.S. market last year. Has one-third the calories of sugar. Can cause intestinal rumblings. It's the sweetener in 7-Eleven's Diet Pepsi Slurpee.
-- Others -- In the pipeline are trehalose (approved for use but not around much yet), alitame and the return of cyclamate (which was banned in 1970 but the FDA is reconsidering).
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September 1996: 155 pounds (-110 lbs)
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