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Finding Natural Sweetness Enhancers in Citrus That May Lead to Citrus Beverages with Lower Sugar Content

At UF/IFAS, we are working on finding solutions for Florida’s citrus growers. This is a summary of one project made possible by state legislative funding for the UF/IFAS Citrus Initiative during the 2018-19 cycle. It documents how we are making progress and  providing Florida growers with reasonable, pragmatic solutions to successfully grow citrus in the new age of citrus greening.

Researcher: Yu Wang, Food Science and Human Nutrition

IMPACT: Newly developed HLB-tolerant varieties developed by UF/IFAS could provide consumers with better tasting orange juice with lower sugar content.

U.S. demand for orange juice has dropped in recent years. Many citrus growers believe it is because consumers want to limit their sugar intake, especially from fruit juices. But a new UF/IFAS project indicates science may provide a solution. Food chemist Yu Wang, an assistant professor with UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, has determined that some citrus fruits contain compounds that are natural sweetness enhancers — not sugars, but chemicals that intensify the sensation of sweetness when consumed with foods that contain sugar.

Wang made the discovery while evaluating new mandarin varieties developed by UF/IFAS citrus breeders. She selected one UF/IFAS mandarin variety and a commercial cultivar with a similar ratio of sugars to acids, and asked taste panel participants to rank the perceived sweetness of both.

Surprisingly, panelists indicated that the UF/IFAS mandarin tasted much sweeter than the commercial variety — despite their similar sugar-to-acid ratios. Wang plans additional studies to assess whether these compounds enhance the sensation of sweetness or if they might themselves be sweeteners of a previously unknown type that could prove valuable to Florida orange juice processors who are struggling with declining juice sales.

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