Podcast: The sugar reduction opportunity

Dairy industry experts Dr. Craig Sherwin and Mary Wilcox talks about the proverbial “sweet tooth” — and what food producers might want to consider when developing sweet dairy products in a new Dairy Lab podcast.

Click here to listen to this episode of the Dairy Lab podcast.


Our two experts bring more than 40 years’ combined experience to the table: Mary, with an extensive background in marketing, business, process and product development for the dairy industry; and Craig, a technical services manager at Novozymes, with research experience in the food industry, specializing in dairy and dough. 


There’s a global trend towards reducing sugar in foods, including dairy. Where is this coming from?

MARY: We have an aging population that’s encountering more health concerns, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. And what’s happening is it’s raising healthcare costs and concerns around the world.

CRAIG: And we certainly know that rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome are on the rise. These are public health concerns that everyone would like to see improve.

MARY: Well, and at the same time, we know that humans are born with that “sweet tooth” – they’ve done studies looking at it specifically, and have evidence showing that babies like the taste of sugar. And we also know that the more you have a sweet tooth, the more you want more sweet things to consume. So, it’s kind of a double-edged sword because we have that desire to have sugar, but we have to have it in balance with the rest of our diets.

Why is this a trend now? What’s changed in today’s society that this wasn’t happening, say, 50 years ago?

CRAIG: What’s happened over the past several decades in the food industry is that there’s more sugar in foods than you realize. In fact, a tablespoon of ketchup may have 4 grams of sugar. That’s a teaspoon’s worth in one tablespoon of ketchup.

MARY: In other words, you have to be really careful about checking out the food label.

CRAIG: So, in defense of food companies, there’s a lot of really good reasons why there would be sugar in a lot of these foods you may not think about. Ketchup is a good example of where you want a little bit of sugar to moderate that astringency, the tartness that comes with a good tomato. That’s part of what makes ketchup taste like it does.

How much of an issue is this for the dairy industry?

CRAIG: In the dairy industry, this is hitting yogurt more squarely than anywhere else, because yogurt is such an important part of breakfast. It’s also growing as a snack and as an indulgent dessert. And yogurt can have a lot of sugar in it.

Does yogurt naturally have that much sugar?

CRAIG: If you look at the way you make yogurt, certainly a traditional yogurt is very, very simple. All you’re doing is taking milk and adding cultures, or letting it naturally ferment in the cultures that are already present. And it produces this delicious, creamy product with intense flavor. Today, we do like some sweetness in there because that flavor is very tart. So, simply, sugar is added to it. 

MARY: Once again, back to the sweet tooth.

So, is there a way to increase yogurt’s sweetness without adding sugar?

CRAIG: I think enzymes could be your friend in that. A great way to have enzymes help a yogurt product developer in this particular challenge is lactase. 
Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactose is an important part of milk, but it’s actually not very sweet. It’s a sugar that’s in your yogurt, but you’re not getting much sensory credit for that because it’s not contributing much sweetness. 

But, lactose is a disaccharide — it’s made of two smaller sugars. And what the lactase enzymes does is break that down into these component sugars. And the neat thing is these sugars are actually sweeter than lactose.  

MARY: The glucose and galactose that comes from breaking down the lactose then adds to the sweetness, but not the overall sugar content.

CRAIG: So you’ve boosted the sweetness with the lactose that’s already there, and that means you don’t need to add quite as much of your sweetener.

Podcast: The sugar reduction opportunity

On this episode, dairy industry experts dr. Craig Sherwin and Mary Wilcox are going to discuss the proverbial sweet tooth - and what food producers might want to consider when developing sweet dairy products.