The recent FI Europe ingredients show held in Paris attracted some1,100 food ingredient exhibitors and a record number of visitors. For the soft drink industry, it was an opportunity to sample new ingredients and identify future trends. Annette Sessions reviews some of the particularly interesting products on display, including more ideas for the low-cal segment.

For some time now 'functionality' has been the buzzword in soft drinks, driven by the health-conscious consumer and soft drink manufacturers seeking out that 'something different' which refreshes, tastes good and is, above all, healthy.    This remains true, but with the recent surge in popularity of low cal/diet/lite  drinks, sweetener manufacturers have a new catchphrase, the glycemic index (GI).

The index is a ranking of carbohydrates based on their immediate effect on blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. A lower GI rating moderates the rise and fall of blood sugar levels within the body as well as maintaining them at a more constant level for longer periods of time. Strong fluctuations of the blood sugar levels, also known as the 'yo-yo' effect, have been linked to the onset of obesity and Diabetes II. These too are said to be avoided through a low GI diet.
 
A low GI concept for beverages called 'Low GI Near Water' was demonstrated by Rudolf Wild. This contains both the natural fruit sweetener Fruit Up, with natural fruit carbohydrates to provide the low glycemic energy source, as well as a water-soluble fibre which is both clear, tasteless and satisfying. The near water concept was scientifically tested in conjunction with the Institute for Metabolic Research which indicated a GI of 40, considered a very low rating. The drink delivers just 24 calories per 100ml.

Palatinit, part of the world's largest sugar producer, Sudzacker AG, launched a new sweetener, Palitnose, which it claims is the only low glycemic (GI Index 32) sugar that delivers a prolonged energy release in the form of glucose and thus is particularly suitable for sports and energy drinks.

Sugar replacement dietary fibres are a further aid in the fight against obesity.   They also promote digestive health. Visitors to Danisco Sweeteners' stand  sampled Vanilla Milk Boost and Apple Juice with Fibre, drinks made with Litesse Ultra (polydextrose) and fructose, whilst Senus demonstrated its Frutafit inulin and Frutalose FOS dietary fibres. These are slowly digestible carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index and calorific value.

Speciality ingredients supplier Nutrinova invited visitors to taste-test an elderberry-cherry flavoured beverage, sweetened by using different blends containing the high intensity brand sweetener Sunett (acesulfame K). The company, which invented acesulfame K, calls this its Multi-Sweetener Concept, designed for health- and weight-conscious consumers.

On the organic front Orafti Liquid Sweeteners unveiled Naturesweet LC, a range of low colour organic liquid sweeteners. Previously organic sugar has been difficult to use in applications such as soft drinks where colour is critical since most organic sugar is brown cane sugar. Naturesweet sweeteners are claimed to be "crystal clear" with a clean sweet taste.

Moving away from sweeteners on to more exotic ingredients, Marigot Ltd has developed Aquamin, a range of natural mineralised seaweed ingredients, rich in calcium, magnesium and beneficial trace minerals. Recent trials have shown that Aquamin can be included in such soft drinks as orange-based drinking yoghurts, without affecting taste, texture, flavour or appearance.

Then there's the camu camu, a fruit found in the Peruvian Amazonas region. Apparently this fruit, about the size of a large grape with skin similar to a cherry, has the highest content of natural vitamin C of any fruit, 2,800mg per 100g of fruit. It was brought to the exhibition by Iprona, the fruit company from Lana, Italy.

The rooibos  (Afrikaans for 'red bush') grows only in the Western Cape region of South Africa. There it is widely consumed for its perceived anti-ageing benefits which are attributable to the bush's high content of flavonoids and polyphenols - antioxidants with potent free radical-scavenging ability. It has a rich red colour and distinctive flavour.

Now Cognis Nutrition & Health has added rooibos along with honeybush (another South African species associated with relieving coughs and colds) to its  Plantalin range of water-soluble extracts.  

Rooibos, along with hibiscus and fruit tea extracts, also features in a new beverage concept called 'Let's get red' launched by Plantextrakt from Germany. Sales director Michael Bloser, explained: "The idea is to make the natural colour of the extracts an integral part of the concept. Children in particular are attracted to this colour and by combining hibiscus and rooibos with elderberries and other red berries we can offer the client a broad range of red tones."

Fortification - the addition of nutrients, proteins and minerals - is key to many functional beverages. Fortitech Inc invited visitors to sample its bone-healthy soy beverage concept. With added vitamins D and A and available in apple, pear and peach flavours, the company explained that the drink offered an important source of proteins as well as being naturally fat-free by utilising isolated soy proteins.

Meanwhile, Carbery, the Irish ingredients supplier, launched details of its clear whey protein isolate called Isolac Clear. This boasts 90% protein and is claimed to be ideal for fortifying beverages where clarity is important, such as enriched juices, sports and energy drinks or enhanced waters. It comes as a free-flowing spray-dried powder, is easy to store, handle and process and, like many of the  other exhibitors' products, represents a simple and effective way for manufacturers to add value to a wide range of drinks.