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Back to the future: reintroducing inverts to enhance performance

07/12/2021 By Ben Eastick in Food technology Formulations, Invert sugar syrup

As most within the industry are only too aware, glucose syrup is in short supply, resulting in significant price hikes. Next year, for example, a tonne of glucose syrup is set to almost double in valuation. Naturally, this is causing a headache of significant magnitude for those manufacturers that use it in their end products.

However, these challenges can be overcome – they just require a different perspective. Through the right lens, the current market is giving manufacturers thinking time to take stock and re-evaluate. And for some, this might provide the time to enhance their product performance by reintroducing invert syrups into their formulations. In this blog, we explain how this can be achieved.

Before that, though, let’s take a step back and examine how glucose syrup became such an important ingredient in food and beverage production in the first place.

A brief history of glucose syrup

Though it may surprise some, glucose syrup is not a new or even remotely new innovation in commercial food and beverage manufacture. It was, in fact, invented as early as 1811 by German scientist, Gottlieb Kirchhoff, who discovered hydrolysis by heating starch, water and sulphuric acid.

But despite being invented in the early nineteenth century, glucose syrup was not widely used in food and beverage production for more than a century and a half as it was considered an inferior product to sugar syrups. Back then, sugar syrups were preferred and more widely used in industrial applications – and this is still the case today, by and large.

Some of this narrative would change in the 1970s, however, when President Nixon was facing re-election. According to Jacques Peretti of The Guardian, the impact of the Vietnam War and the soaring cost of food were taking their toll on Nixon’s popularity in the polls. To secure his second term, he needed to find a way of lowering prices – and to achieve that, he needed to get the farmer demographic in his favour.

corn being harvested on left, president Richard Nixon on right

President Nixon lowered farming costs to win votes.

So, Nixon and his advisors devised a new free-market plan that pushed farmers into a new industrial scale of production, and key to this plan was corn, which can of course be used to produce glucose syrup. The sweetener syrup was then mass-produced and this, in turn, lead to its widespread use in food and beverage production. Unsurprisingly, as the US was the superpower of the capitalist world, this formula was replicated across much of the western world, serving to lower the cost of many bulk-produced foods and beverages.

Glucose syrup: the cost vs. compromise

Though glucose syrup grew in usage following these developments, it still lacked some of the natural properties of sugar. The sweetener syrup therefore does not perform as many functions as a pure sugar syrup and, as a result, does not develop as high-quality end products.

This means that choosing the sweetener syrup is somewhat of a compromise on quality. In the past, this may have been a compromise worth making due to the lower costs of sweetener syrups. But today, with skyrocketing glucose syrup prices, the business case might not make as much sense.

Addressing the glucose market deficit: stick or twist?

With this business case now in question, manufacturers must reassess the situation. There are two schools of thought to tackling this:

1. Persist with the current formulation using glucose syrup, paying over the odds for a lower-quality product. This could potentially save some pain in the short term, but such is the scale of scarcity within the market that there can be no guarantees their orders would even be fulfilled. This event, of course, would create a much larger problem than extortionate costs and lower-quality end product – it threatens their production schedules and ability to meet customer contracts.

2. Reformulate using different ingredients to either lower costs or enhance end product quality. Naturally, reformulating is an investment that may require more work upfront sourcing, testing and analysing ingredients and formulations – as well negotiating contracts – but the major benefit is that it is a long-term solution. Reformulating offers a permanent, not a temporary, solution. And that’s the difference between options one and two.

When it comes to the recommended option two, the next question is “What are the alternatives”? Well, using pure sugar syrups is a possibility if the manufacturers in question are looking to enhance their product performance. Pure syrups were of course widely used in commercial food and beverage applications well before glucose syrup was on the radar of manufacturers, as detailed above.

Close up shot on left glucose syrup being poured, on right partial invert sugar syrup being poured.

The different appearances of glucose syrup and partial invert sugar syrup.

Partial invert sugar syrup a potential replacement to enhance performance

Specifically, in this recent Ragus blog, we explained that partial invert sugar syrup can be used as a potential replacement for glucose syrup 63DE. But there is a caveat. It should not be considered by manufacturers looking to reformulate to lower costs. Instead, it should only be considered by those that are viewing the current market circumstances as an opportunity to enhance their product performance.

Why? Because partial invert sugar syrup is a much more versatile product than glucose syrup, and this capability enables it to perform better in its various applications. Indeed, though both partial invert and glucose syrup deliver similar functional benefits, such as extending shelf-lives in baked goods or providing body and mouthfeel in soft drinks, there is a key difference between them. And that difference is how each ingredient impacts taste.

Partial invert syrup is a pure sugar product where the sucrose has naturally been broken down into glucose and fructose, and as fructose is a natural flavour enhancer, using partial invert instead of glucose syrup means the end products taste better.

This taste is what matters most to consumers. For example, according to Mintel research 2021 on the most important factors when choosing indulgent products, 87% of UK consumers agreed that taste is the most important factor for chocolate. Taste is king, and consumers always vote with their wallets. So, it is a relatively straightforward concept that one of the most effective ways of gaining their custom and loyalty is by using the ingredients that deliver the highest-quality results.

This all sounds good, but how realistic is reformulation for commercial manufacturers?

There is no hiding that reformulating is complex. However, for those customers that see the current market conditions as a genuine opportunity to enhance their product performance, it is achievable.

At Ragus, for example, we have already successfully transitioned existing customers away from glucose syrup and onto partial invert. Not just one profile of customer, either. Some come from the brewery, sauces and bakery markets, for example, where partial invert is now being used in fermenting and shelf-life extending applications.

These customers decided to transition because they realised the current market lends itself to a change of approach – and if there is a better way, then why should they not go for it?

Two workers in sugar factory manufacturing partial invert syrup.

Testing bulk-produced invert sugar syrups at Ragus’ production facility. 

Ultimately, reformulating using partial invert instead of glucose syrup 63DE enhances product performance. For consumers, this means the end product tastes better. For manufacturers, this translates as competitive advantage.

Given the current market, other forward-looking companies may also be looking to put the focus back on quality, not cost. Perhaps then it really is time to go back to the future. By reintroducing invert syrups.

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. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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