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Sugars provide bulk and body to desserts such as ice creams, as well as flavour.

Evaluating sugar as a bulking agent: a guide for businesses and food manufacturers

24/08/2023 By Kay Sandhu in Applications Baking, Properties & functions

If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you probably know that bulking agents play a critical role in adding volume or weight to a product without affecting its taste, function or texture. Sugar is a widely used and versatile natural bulking agent, making it very difficult to replace in some of our best-loved foods, like cakes, biscuits and desserts. Read on to find out how pure sugars bring natural bulk to food products and explore the value they can provide to businesses and food manufacturers.

The advantages of sugar as a food bulking agent

Bulking agents can be used to replace sugar, or fat, or anything else removed from a food product. There are also natural ingredients, like sugar, that automatically add bulk. When taking the place of sugar, bulking agents are used in conjunction with high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose. Because high-intensity sweeteners only provide intense sweetness in a much smaller volume than sugar, manufacturers use bulking agents like polydextrose, inulin, resistant starch or maltodextrins to add volume.

Nothing can truly replicate sugar in a food product because it naturally gives so many functional properties that all have to be replaced by individual additives. Apart from being a natural bulking agent, sugar also plays a crucial role in enhancing flavour, texture, and colour in food and beverage products.

In these doughnuts, sugar provides a vital role providing texture, bulk and colour, as well as flavour.

Sugar plays a vital role providing both body and texture to baked goods, such as doughnuts, as well as colour and flavour.

Sugar brings us all a familiar flavour and eating experience that goes back to childhood. As one of our best-loved tastes, the natural and familiar profile of sugar makes it a favourite with consumers. Its cost-effectiveness and wide availability mean it’s a top choice for many manufacturers too.

Using sugar-based bulking solutions: what you need to know

Sugar has a big impact on the texture and mouthfeel of foods. Many of the vegan meat alternatives you see on the supermarket shelves use sugar to help create the juiciness and chewiness that carnivores crave.

Because sugar reduces the water activity in food, any bacteria or fungi present can’t use it, stopping them from multiplying and spoiling the product. For that reason, foods that naturally contain high amounts of sugar—or that employ it as a bulking agent—have a long shelf life and often don’t need to be refrigerated.

Sugar’s ability to bestow functional properties to food products means careful formulation and recipe adjustments are crucial for manufacturers who use it as a bulking agent. For instance, because sugar adds viscosity (thickness and stickiness), it’s a popular addition to semi-liquid foods like syrups, chutneys and sauces. Its anticoagulant properties—demonstrable in custards and desserts like panna cotta and crème caramel—changes proteins to a semi-solid state. While that’s an essential property of these foods, it’s worth remembering that adding sugar to food products can transform them in unexpected ways.

The body and texture panna cotta is provided by pure sugars.

Sugar provides the body to a panna cotta, alongside the distinctive smooth texture and mouthfeel.

Sweeteners for bulking: health implications and consumer demands

Consumer awareness around the impact of sugar on health is growing. However, consumers are also aware of the potential dangers of many artificial sweeteners and additives. That means it’s important for manufacturers to understand the minds of consumers and how the ingredients they choose to use impact on consumer purchasing decisions.

Businesses must align their product offerings with what their consumers want. This can be reduced-sugar options made with alternative bulking agents or, equally, natural products made without chemicals and fillers, which is where pure sugar takes the prize.

Sourcing sugar for food manufacturing in bulk

Choosing the right distributor for bulk pure sugars can make the difference between meeting consumer needs and missing them. Businesses must consider quality control measures, certifications, and sustainability practices in a prospective sugar supplier.

Consider quality, certifications and sustainability when choosing a pure sugars supplier.

When choosing a pure sugars supplier, quality control, certifications and sustainability are key criteria to consider.

To establish reliable and long-term partnerships with sugar distributors, food and beverage manufacturers need to work with a distributor who has a great relationship with their own suppliers. With 95 years of heritage as an independent manufacturer building on long-term supplier relationships, Ragus sources responsibly-grown and processed primary cane and beet sugars from around the world.

Sustainability is at the heart of our business strategy, products and operations. From the raw materials that we source under our sustainable procurement strategy, to the sugar products we manufacture in our technologically-advanced and efficient production facility, we choose delivery and distribution partners that share our values.

And, because we receive oversight and governance by third-party assurance and standards organisations, we have the accreditations and certifications that qualify us to supply the most demanding customers in the industries we serve.

Regulatory and labelling requirements

Every country has different regulations and guidelines on how to display sugar content on product labels. If food and beverage manufacturers want to win and keep the trust of consumers, they need to comply with labelling rules. According to one survey, the health indicators on a food product label are just as important to consumers as the ingredients and country of origin.

Regulations on sugar usage and alternative bulking agents can change, so it’s important to be aware of them. For instance, new Brexit labelling rules affecting many food products coming into the UK from the EU were due to come into force on 1 October 2022. However, these have now been postponed to 1 January 2024.

Bulking agents in the future: trends and consumer demand

According to FoodNavigator, labels with a short and easy-to-read ingredients list and plant-based—as opposed to chemical-based—sweeteners are key trends today, and look set to grow in the future.

With demand for lower sugar food products rising, many food and beverage businesses and brands are finding inventive ways to improve taste and texture in sugar-reduced products.

For instance, some juice manufacturers are using soluble fibres to provide bulk alongside monk fruit for sweetness. One company, B.T. Sweet, says their sweetener solution produces a clean taste and has a similar sweetness profile to sugar.

However, manufacturers must remember that consumers are sensitive to changes in their favourite products. Replacing sugar is notoriously difficult, as the makers of Lucozade found out when they changed the drink’s recipe, omitting sugar and losing an estimated £25 million in sales as a result, according to the Mirror newspaper.

Replacing sugar in baked goods is even harder. Senior technical services specialist at Cargill, McKenna Mills, says that bakers risk much more than just a flavour impact. “Sucrose is a bulking agent, first and foremost,” she said in BakingBusiness. “When you take the bulk out of a product, you’re going to run into a lot of issues.”

Pure sugars are a perfect bulking agent for panettone and custard tarts.

Pure sugars providing body and texture to artisan panettone, and to both the pastry and filling of custard tarts.

Building back bulk and ensuring maximum shelf life while giving consumers the eating experience they want when sugar comes out is a challenge for food and beverage manufacturers. If they can’t replicate sugar’s timeless appeal, consumers may go elsewhere, despite the health hit.

Key takeaways

Bulking agents add volume or weight to a product without affecting its taste, function or texture.

Sugar is a natural bulking agent that comes with many other natural, functional properties, making it hard to replace in food products.

While lower sugar products are popular with some consumers, replacing it often means using artificial sweeteners and artificial bulking agents that change taste and texture.

It’s crucial that manufacturers make the right decision for their specific consumer segments when reformulating popular recipes to lower or replace sugar.

Because sugar is a natural bulking agent, it’s often used to give texture or volume to plant-based or low-fat products and meat alternatives.

Manufacturers must consider health-conscious consumer preferences and industry trends when they procure sugar in bulk, looking closely at quality control measures, certifications, and sustainability practices in a sugar supplier.

Pure sugar syrups adding bulk, body and texture.

Pure sugar syrups such as golden syrup provide body, texture and mouthfeel to baked goods, with a unique colour and mellow flavour.

Ragus supplies high-quality pure sugar syrups and crystallines to industrial food and beverage producers that add bulk to food products, and to enhance product taste, texture and appearance. To learn more about our pure sugar products, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Kay Sandhu

Kay ensures that our customers’ orders are delivered, on time and in full.

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