Can a Wonka-Like Trick Make Candy Taste Just as Good With Less Sugar?

Nestlé is hollowing out molecules to cut the sugar content of its candies nearly in half.
Nestle Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy bars are displayed on a shelf at a convenience store. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Dec 2, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

As any calorie-conscious holiday reveler knows, it’s hard not to be a bit naughty during a season when so many sweets abound. Wouldn’t it be nice to indulge with a little less guilt? Well, maybe in a few years.

In what would appear to be a game-changing innovation for the multibillion-dollar candy industry, global giant Nestlé announced Thursday it has discovered a way to reduce the amount of total sugar in its confections by up to 40 percent—without changing the taste.

The secret, in layperson’s terms, is to alter the structure of sugar molecules—hollow them out, so to speak—so that they dissolve faster on your tongue. A quicker dissolve means your brain’s raging sugar craving gets satisfied with less sugar, because it perceives just as much sweetness on your tongue as if you were savoring whole molecules.

Nestlé is taking pains to emphasize the altered sugar is still, well, sugar—all natural, nothing artificial. In other words, we’re not talking about any of those pesky artificial sweeteners that have garnered their own negative press during the past several years.

The company is keeping mum about any further specifics because it is in the process of patenting its discovery—for which it presumably spent a pretty penny. Nestlé says it has one of the largest research and development apparatuses of any food maker in the world, with some 40 R&D facilities spanning the globe employing more than 5,000 workers.

In recent years big food makers, such as big soda, have come under pressure to rein in their products’ sky-high sugar content owing to growing concerns about the effects of consuming too much sugar on our public health. The World Health Organization, for example, now recommends that consumers limit their consumption of added sugars to 10 percent of daily calorie intake and further encourages a more extreme reduction to 5 percent. For the average adult, a single Nestlé Butterfinger, which has nearly 30 grams of sugar, torpedoes the 5 percent limit and puts you more than halfway toward the 10 percent limit.

Nestlé’s innovative “hollow” sugar would seem poised to go a long way toward helping the company meet its goal of reducing sugar content across its brands by 10 percent. Nestlé was slated to meet that goal sometime this year but has reported that “we may have to extend the work on this commitment beyond 2016.” As of the end of last year, the company was less than halfway there. Yet the promise of being able to slash sugar in its candy by up to 40 percent while not sacrificing taste may provide a needed jolt to reaching its sugar-reduction goals—and maybe even beating them. Still, public health experts have cautioned against perceiving the reduced-sugar candy as somehow healthier, which could simply encourage consumers to eat more of it.

But we can worry about that later. After all, Nestlé says it has no plans to start rolling out products containing its newfangled sugar until at least 2018.