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How different sugars impact the flavour and production of cola

12/03/2021 By Frank O’Kelly in Food technology Formulations, Liquid sugars

Recently unearthed footage of Chancellor Sunak’s blunder when discussing his love of cola has been the cause of much amusement online. But despite the faux pas, the video contains an important sugar message. In this blog, we expand upon this underlying message by explaining exactly how different sugars impact the flavour and production of cola.   

Chancellor Sunak’s faux pas underlines key sugar message

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was recently reminded of an awkward 2019 interview during which he admitted to Sixth Form pupils that he was a “total coke addict”. In the video – which you can watch here – the Chancellor immediately realises his blunder and corrects himself, reassuring his teenage audience that he meant the carbonated beverage.

From there, Sunak goes on to discuss some of the different tastes of cola around the world and reveals that his favourite cola “is made with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup,” before emphasising that this factor means it “tastes amazing”.

So, while the video might be more widely remembered for the faux pas, it underlines an important sugar message – that different sugars and sweetener syrups play a decisive role in impacting the quality, flavour and production of cola.  

With this in mind, we have decided to develop upon Chancellor Sunak’s insights and explain exactly how four different pure sugar products – and one man-made sweetener syrup – impact the flavour and production of cola.

Pouring cola soda with ice and bubble on front view white background cold drink beverageCola was first introduced to consumers over a century ago and has been adored the world over ever since. 

Cane sugar develops a natural, more complex cola flavour

As highlighted by the Chancellor, cola made with cane sugar has a distinctive taste that sets it apart from most of the colas available in the UK, Europe and North America. Cane sugar is a natural sugar product and, as a result, using it in the production of cola results in a deeper, natural and truer flavour of the end product. So much so that in a test conducted by a local New York magazine over a decade ago, trained tasters noted that cola made from cane sugar had “a more complex flavour with an ineffable spicy and herbal note.  

It seems, then, that using a natural sugar ingredient develops a distinctive flavour and a superior end product. But if this is the case, why has it been phased out in favour of man-made sweeteners? Well, one explanation is perhaps due to the additional production time it takes to manufacture cola using crystalline sugar as opposed to a liquid sugar product – it takes longer for cane sugar to dissolve during production and can consequently make manufacturers processes less efficient.

Which products are more widely used in cola production today? We have outlined four options below.

High-fructose corn syrup creates an intensely sweet cola flavour

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener syrup that has become a common ingredient in cola production over the last thirty years. However, as it is a man-made sweetener product, it cannot develop a natural cola flavour. Instead, it is an intensely sweet syrup – with a sweetness index of 120 – that creates a very sweet cola flavour, which can overpower the traditional characteristics of cola.  

With it being a man-made product, HFCS also has contains other properties that natural sugars do not. For example, it metabolises into fat more easily than natural sugars because fructose is easily converted to fat. This is due to the fact that fructose suppresses the action of leptin, the hormone responsible for telling the brain when fat cells have absorbed enough carbohydrate. As a result, those consuming beverages sweetened with HFCS will find themselves consuming more and more to feel satisfied.

So, while HFCS is a common ingredient in cola production, its artificial makeup means it is not necessarily the most suitable product for this application.

Liquid sugar builds a sweet but more balanced cola flavour

Liquid sugar is a natural sugar syrup that is highly popular in cola manufacture. Like HFCS, liquid sugar has an advantage over cane sugar in that it is a syrup, not a crystalline. Indeed, its liquid form reduces the dependence on manual and packaging handling and makes it a far more efficient ingredient for commercial manufacturers.

In terms of taste, the use of liquid sugar develops a sweet but more balanced cola flavour while adding body to the cola and complementing the mouthfeel of carbonated water.

For these reasons, it is a particularly attractive sugar constituent for cola manufacturers.

Liquid raw cane sugar develops a natural, more complex cola flavour

Liquid raw cane sugar is a variation of liquid sugar that is made from raw cane sugar, whereas liquid sugar is produced from refined white sugar (straight sucrose). As a result, liquid raw cane sugar has a mellow and subtler flavour than liquid sugar. These characteristics are significant because they enable it to develop a natural, more complex cola flavour, much like cane sugar.

And crucially, liquid raw cane sugar still has all the same functional benefits as liquid sugar, such as efficiency and convenience.

It therefore manages to strike a balance between developing a complex flavour while being well-suited to large-scale production processes.

Partial invert sugar syrup creates a sweet but balanced cola flavour

The final sugar product that is widely used in the production of cola today is partial invert sugar syrup. Unlike the man-made HFCS, though, partial invert is a pure sugar product made from natural sugars – it naturally separates sucrose into glucose and fructose through an inversion process rather than artificially adding these molecules.  

Via this inversion, partial invert has a sweetness value that is approximately 20% higher than straight sucrose, but this does not mean it overpowers the flavour of cola. Indeed, as it is made from natural sugars, partial invert develops a sweet but more balanced cola flavour that more closely resembles the traditional cola flavour.  

Partial invert is not only favoured for its flavour, though. It is also a popular sugar ingredient for its functional qualities – it is a high-quality syrup that produces consistent results time and again.

So, which of these products does Ragus recommend for the optimal cola flavour and production efficiency?

On the surface, liquid raw cane sugar offers the ideal balance by developing a natural, traditional, deeper and more complex cola flavour while being suited to a wide range of production processes.

However, you can probably tell that there is no straightforward answer to this question, simply because sugar products are nuanced and multifunctional ingredients. Many different sugar products can be used in subtly-different ways to produce distinct end results.

Production of soda bverages or cola. A row of bottles on conveyor belt in factory. 3d illustration

Choosing bulk ingredients for cola production is not a straightforward process. 

Ultimately, it depends on the cola manufacturer’s requirements. Each cola manufacturer has a different production process and unique desires for the taste of their end product, and must also factor in other practical considerations, such as cost and logistics. Once you bring all this together, you begin to understand that manufacturers have to select the right sugar constituent for their needs and cannot simply apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ragus has over 90 years’ experience manufacturing pure sugars and syrups, meaning it is well-placed to consult on the most suitable sugar product for your application. To learn more about our products, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Frank O’Kelly

Frank is the primary contact for many of our largest customers.

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