Rosa Sullivan, Flavour Research Manager at Synergy Flavours, looks at the challenges posed by reducing sugar in baked goods and the innovation that can be brought to solving the problems.


The UK is currently in the middle of a sugar reduction programme to help combat the growing obesity crisis. This is targeting the food and drink industry to reduce overall sugar content across a broad spectrum of products by at least 20% before 2020. With less than a year to go, this challenge is coming into sharper focus for many food manufacturers, but the challenges associated with reducing sugar can cause particular issues for the baked goods industry.

Sugar plays a crucial role in many baked goods, including cakes, pastries and biscuits. Sugar has both flavour and functional properties and the role of sugar in baked goods includes :

  1. Flavour
  2. Mouthfeel
  3. Humectant
  4. Leavening
  5. Browning
  6. Caramelisation
  7. Shortening
  8. Spread

When considering sugar reduction, manufacturers are faced with addressing the effects of sugar reduction on all of these properties, not least the vital role that sugar plays in the formation of flavour during baking.

By simply reducing or removing sugar in baked goods, manufacturers may encounter a number of new challenges in their sugar-reduced products, including loss of flavour, issues around texture and structure, mouthfeel and indulgence loss, sweetness loss, shelf-life reduction and reduced visual appeal of the final product.

Any of these challenges may impact the success of sugar-reduced products emerging in the bakery market. However, manufacturers have the opportunity to differentiate their sugar-reduced products by incorporating emerging technologies into their recipes to overcome these challenges, providing consumers with healthier baked goods without compromising product enjoyment. 

A potential replacement for some of the functional attributes of sugar are starches, polyols and fibres, but additional solutions are required to fully address changes in mouthfeel and flavour in sugar-reduced baked goods. The altered flavour of sugar-reduced baked goods is a combination of both sweetness and so-called ‘baked notes’, which form due to chemical reactions occurring during the baking process itself. To complete their solution for reduced-sugar baked goods, manufacturers can look to flavours that recreate these authentic baked notes.

At Synergy Flavours, we have found that recreating authentic baked flavour requires further investigation into the science behind the flavour of full-sugar baked goods.

Mapping the flavour of baked goods

The first stage in understanding the flavour of reduced-sugar biscuits is sensory profiling. Sensory scientists use profiling techniques to understand individual product characteristics. Below is an example of sensory profiling of a full and reduced-sugar digestive-style biscuit.   

As demonstrated in the diagram, the sensory profile of the two biscuits was noticeably different. Not just was the reduced-sugar biscuit low in sweetness, but the brown and caramelised flavours were also reduced, demonstrating the need to restore those notes.

To understand the reasons for this difference in caramelised and brown notes on a chemical level, flavour analysts can perform chemical analysis of the biscuits using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The output, a chromatogram (pictured below) shows individual volatile compounds present in the biscuit as individual peaks, which have been separated and identified using GC-MS. A number of compounds detected in the biscuit are highlighted, including their aroma properties. This data was used by flavour scientists to understand the compounds responsible for caramelised and brown notes in the baked biscuits.

This combination of sensory and analytical insight is used by flavour experts to develop flavour solutions that incorporate an authentic baked biscuit character. The solutions can then be applied in reduced-sugar biscuits to enhance those notes. While the example above was performed on a digestive-style biscuit, this approach can be employed more broadly to build back authentic flavour in any sugar-reduced baked good. To achieve optimal results, flavour solutions can be tailored specifically for the target product and developed in collaboration between manufacturers and flavour experts.

Will our cakes and biscuits ever be the same?

The baking industry is fully aware that some of its products could be healthier and, at Synergy, we are excited to be exploring how to we can deliver this in application. Our flavour solutions enable bakery manufacturers to make substantial reductions in sugar while maintaining the overall consumer perception of the product.

The government’s increasing regulations are putting pressure on manufacturers to nutritionally improve everyday treats for the health of the nation. High-sugar products will always have a place in the UK market, but typically this is moving more into the indulgent treat space. Standard baked goods will slowly transform into healthier versions, both sugar and fat reduced, and there is a real opportunity for manufacturers to leverage modern flavour technology to enable them to do so without compromising taste. By combining textural solutions with a specially tailored flavour, manufacturers can achieve great-tasting, healthier baked products.

Despite challenging times for manufacturers, the future is bright for the baking industry – our sweet treats can be better for us when made with a sprinkling of innovation and a dash of creativity.