Role of sweeteners on temporality and bar hardening of protein bars

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Jul;103(7):6032-6053. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-17995. Epub 2020 May 21.


Protein bars are one product that meet consumer demands for a low-carbohydrate, high-protein food. With such a large market for protein bars, producers need to find the correct texture and sweetness levels to satisfy consumers while still delivering a high-protein, low-carbohydrate bar. In the bar industry, bar hardening is a major concern, and currently the effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on bar hardening is unknown. Due to the negative implications of bar hardening, it is important to investigate the sweetener-protein relationship with bar hardening. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of sweetener and protein source on flavor, texture, and shelf life of high-protein, low-carbohydrate bars. The iso-sweet concentration of sweeteners (sucralose, sucrose, monk fruit, stevia, and fructose) in pea protein (PP), milk protein (MP) and whey protein isolate (WPI) bars were established using magnitude estimation scaling and 2-alternative forced-choice testing. Descriptive analysis and temporal check-all-that-apply methods were then applied to determine flavor and temporal differences between the protein bars. Finally, an accelerated shelf life study was completed to understand how sweetener and protein types affect the shelf life of protein bars. The 15 protein bars formulated at iso-sweet concentration were all stored at 35°C and 55% humidity for 35 d, and measurements were taken every 7 d, beginning at d 1 (d 1, 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35). Bars made with MP required significantly less sweetener, compared with PP and WPI, to reach equal sweetness. Bars sweetened with stevia or monk fruit had distinct bitter and metallic tastes, and sucralose had a low metallic taste. Bars made with WPI were the most cohesive, and PP and WPI bars were more bitter and metallic compared with MP bars. Bars made with WPI and fructose were initially the hardest, but after d 14 they scored at parity with PP sucrose. There were no significant differences among bars in terms of hardness by d 21. Bars made with WPI were consistently denser at all time points than bars made with PP or MP. Bars made with PP were the driest and least cohesive and had the fastest rate of breakdown in the study. Non-nutritive sweeteners did not have a negative effect on bar hardness in low-carbohydrate, high-protein bars. Findings from this study can be applied to commercially produced protein bars for naturally sweetened bars with different protein types without negative effects on protein bar texture.

Keywords: hardening; protein bar; sugar reduction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flavoring Agents*
  • Food Analysis
  • Food Storage
  • Hardness
  • Humans
  • Sweetening Agents / analysis*
  • Taste*
  • Time Factors


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Sweetening Agents