The food industry is still experimenting with stevia, a modern plant-based artificial sweetener in various food products. Haystack wanted to find out whether it could successfully function as a sweetener in ice cream.
As of November 2011, the EU approved the use of a glycoside (stevioside) from the Stevia rebaudiana (sweet leaf) plant as a sweetener in food. Stevia is a powerful sweetener with the potential to make healthier products. Needless to say this sugar substitute is a very interesting alternative for the food industry.
Haystack conducted a study as to whether steviosides from Stevia rebaudiana would be accepted as a sugar substitute in ice cream since stevia has a liquorice-like taste and often a somewhat bitter aftertaste. Approximately half of the 50 test subjects were men and women between the ages of 20 and 45. The other half consisted of an older age group of people between 46 to 65 years.
In a blind taste test, participants sampled ice cream with sugar and ice cream with stevia in varying sequences. When asked which of the two products they preferred, three quarters of the older group preferred the traditional ice cream with sugar compared to only 41 per cent of the younger group. Instead, some 50 per cent of the younger group preferred the stevia variety. 76 per cent of the older group would buy sugar-sweetened ice cream, whereas only 52 per cent of the older participants would consider buying stevia ice cream. In the group of young consumers, the difference was less defined: 68 per cent would buy the ‘traditional’ ice cream, whereas 59 per cent would buy the stevia product.
Haystack was able to conclude that especially the younger target groups, who grew up tasting several alternative sweeteners, have the best chance of accepting stevia as sweetener in ice cream. Older consumers, having known only beet sugar or raw sugar in their diets, prefer traditionally sweetened ice cream. Nevertheless, stevia can become a true alternative to traditional sugar when consumers are informed of its health benefits.