New sugar substitutes in citrus could change food and beverage industry

A breakthrough finding that could avoid consuming large amounts of sugar as sweeteners.
Deniz Yildiran
Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits


We all love sugar. It could make any food taste better if combined with the right ingredients. However, as the saying goes, enough is a feast. Too much sugar could be addictive, as is the case for most people in the United States. Statistics show that 75 percent of Americans consume excessive amounts of sugar, which could lead to severe health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Hence finding non-caloric substitutes for sugar has always been the case for scientists. This time, they might have just found what they’ve been looking for.

In a world first, researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences discovered natural sweeteners in citrus, a group of fruits that could be produced prevalently all over the world. A breakthrough finding could reveal new opportunities for the food industry to make food and beverages with lower sugar – and keep the sweetness and taste through natural products.

Yu Wang, associate professor of food science at UF/IFAS, has led the project that revealed eight new sweetener or sweetness-enhancing compounds in 11 citrus cultivars.

"We were able to identify a natural source for an artificial sweetener, oxime V, that had never been identified from any natural source previously," said Wang, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. "This creates expanded opportunities for citrus growers and for breeding cultivars to be selected to obtain high yields of sweetener compounds."

Reducing sugar without reducing the level of sweetness of the food could alter the taste of most food. In addition, as another alternative solution, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners with zero calories such as saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame can leave a bitter and metallic aftertaste, a case which most of us wouldn't desire while enjoying a sweet yet fresh lemonade. While consumers opt for non-caloric and natural sweeteners, they can still mess with the aftertastes; and some fruits are hard to cultivate to make natural sweeteners.

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While looking for the actual sweeteners in citrus, researchers also searched for sweetness enhancers that can reduce the amount of sugar required to achieve the same level of perceived sweetness. Today, only six synthetic and two natural sweeteners are used and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Luckily, UF/IFAS citrus breeding program offered 11 selections of unique and exceptional flavors, which included UF 914 (a grapefruit hybrid), and EV-2 and OLL-20 (both sweet oranges). Mandarins, including Sugar Belle, Bingo, 13-51, 18A-4-46, 18A-9-39, and 18A-10-38, were also included in the project.

The research has been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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