Use of Sweetener in Food


“Sweetness” is one of the five basic tastes that are innate of human. “Sugar” which is in the form of carbohydrate in the nature imparts a “sweet” taste to food. This is digested, absorbed, and metabolised by the human body to produce energy and nutrition. In accordance with the chemical structure, it is divided into two main types, namely monosaccharide (single sugar molecule) and disaccharide (two single sugar molecules joined together).


Rise of sweetener

In traditional food processing, the purposes of adding sugar is to increase the sweetness of food and induce the caramelisation reaction for improving the mouthfeel. However, ingestion of too much sugar may result in excessive energy intake, thereby increasing the risks of overweight and obesity. With the consumer’s pursuit of low-calorie food and the technological development in the food industry, replacing the sugar with sweetener as a function of imparting sweetness has become a global trend in the industry. Sweetener is widely used nowadays in many countries and regions, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Japan, etc. Some types of sweetener have been in use for a long time.


What is sweetener?

Sweetener is a type of food additives which substitutes sugar to give a sweet taste in food, excluding monosaccharide and disaccharide. In general, sweetener is synthetic chemicals but some of them are extracted from plants. Sweetener comes with varying levels of sweetness, and the combination of different sweetener produces synergistic effects on the overall flavour of food. Therefore, it is typical of the food industry to use more than one type of sweetener in a food product. The common food commodity with added sweetener includes candied fruit, confectionery, condiments, beverages, food for special dietary use, etc.


In accordance with the “Standards for Use of Sweeteners in Food” in Macao, there are 19 types of sweetener allowed to be used in food, including sorbitol, maltitol, aspartame, stevioside, etc.


What is the relationship between sweetener and health?

Since sweetener does not provide much energy nor affect insulin or glucose levels, it can aid obese persons and diabetics in weight management, enabling whom to enjoy the sweet food. Moreover, sweetener is mainly used in snack rather than in staple food so the dietary intake of sweetener is unlikely to cause health hazards. However, phenylketonuria patients and people who are allergic to particular sweetener should read the food label in detail while shopping for food to check whether the food contains the sweetener concerned.


Regulation on sweetener for the use in food in Macao

The Administrative Regulation No. 12/2018 “Standards for Use of Sweeteners in Food” is promulgated in Macao as a food safety standard for regulating the use of sweetener, including the principles of use, scope of application and the maximum use dosage, to safeguard the food safety. It clearly defines the sweetener that is allowed to be used in appropriate amount according to the needs of food processing (10 types) and the sweetener that is allowed to be used within the statutory scope of application and dosage (9 types) in different food categories. It is not permitted to use any sweetener other than the "Standards for Use of Sweeteners in Food".


Furthermore, the Regulation stipulates the conditions under which sweetener is prohibited from use. The list consists mainly of staple food, like fresh vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, cereal grains, condiments, infant formula, non-staple food for infants and so on. For detail, please refer to “Table 2” of the Regulation that lists the food categories in which sweetener is prohibited from use.


The food industry can make use of the “Guidelines on Categorisation System for Food Additives and Food” to find out their food items to which the food categories belong and the limits of sweetener allow to be used so as to obtain the intended effect at a reasonable level.


How do resident know about the food product containing sweetener?

Consumer may take a careful look at the food label on the packaging of a food product in which it clearly lists all ingredients, including food additives and added nutrients. Sweetener is usually indicated by its common name or accompanied by the code from the international/regional numbering system of food additives for identification.


Though normal dietary intake of sweetener is not hazardous to health, the Department of Food Safety advises consumer to pay attention on the quality of food and their dietary patterns. They should opt for fresh food and eat less processed food, which contain the least chemical ingredients. For the sake of health, they should break the picky eating habit and eat a varied diet to reduce the risk of accumulation of a specific chemical substance in the body over time.