Hidden sugar reservoir: Singapore’s Hoow Foods turns attention to healthier reformulation in condiments
Hoow Foods is best known for its Callery’s ice cream, but Dr Sherman Ho, co-founder and chief technology officer at Hoow Foods, described sauces as condiments as ‘hidden sugar reservoirs’.
“Most people think sauces are only salty, but when we look at the nutrition label on condiments such as oyster sauce, tomato sauce, chilli sauce, or black pepper sauce on the shelves, sugar is often one of the main ingredients (by weight).
“In fact, salt is not that high in these sauces. If you taste oyster sauce, you get an initial sweet taste followed by the salty and umani flavour from the oyster extract.”
Dr Ho said many sauces are developed based on sugar caramelisation, and typically the flavour is modulated by sugar.
The firm is currently working on the concept of sugar and fat reduction in condiments, but the challenge lies in transforming unhealthy foods into healthy ones without any impact on the taste or texture.
This is because among Asian consumers, “people would not consume healthier foods if it meant sacrificing a significant portion of taste,” according to Dr Ho.
“If you cut sugar from sauces, most of them will become one-dimensional [only salty] which is not what consumers want.”
The firm uses its proprietary technology platform called RE-GENESYS to reformulate products. It breaks down and analyse ingredients in existing products, maps novel ingredients to improve the nutritional profiles and generate a prototype.
For sugar reduction, Dr Ho told us the firm uses sweetening agents including soluble fibres, oligosaccharides, monosaccharides and sugar alcohols.
For example, its Callery’s branded ice cream used erythritol, a sugar alcohol as a sweetening agent, with no aftertaste.
According to Dr Ho, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has classified these sweetening agents as non-table sugar.
“It is important for consumers to know that these sweetening agents are no longer regarded as table sugar.”
The firm shies away from artificial intense sweeteners such as stevia, which can be associated with a strong aftertaste.
Dr Ho described it was more difficult formulating with sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and monosaccharide than artificial sweeteners, because it was not as intense in sweetness compared to the latter. However, the former delivered a healthier product.
It is known that Singapore has one of the highest diabetes prevalence in the world, with 11% of the population diagnosed, globally, the figure stands at 9%. In addition, the number of diabetics in Singapore are expected to increase from 440,000 in 2014 to one million in 2025.
Healthier ice cream
Early last year, the firm launched its Callery’s ice cream in Singapore, which contains lower calories, sugar and fat compared to traditional ice cream.
Ow Yau Png, co-founder and CEO at Hoow Foods told us that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the sales of its ice cream to some extent. “During lockdown, people were more concerned with essential food items for cooking, hence retailers (supermarkets) were reluctant to carry our products.”
However, e-commerce sales increased.
Ow said that while potential overseas partnerships were put on hold due to various lockdown measures by governments globally, the firm has continued to plough-on with its R&D work.
In addition to ice cream, the firm is also working on a sugar-free sorbet prototype.
In February 2020, it also launched a series of sugar-free instant beverages in collaboration with Killiney Group, including its milk tea and white coffee available through food service channels in Singapore.
Besides sugar reduction, the firm is also working on several ingredients with functional benefits.
Ow told us the firm is currently developing several patented ingredients to mitigate different types of diseases such as diabetes and obesity, although he declined to elaborate further. The plan is to develop these ingredients which they intend to sell to businesses.
The firm raised an undisclosed pre-Series A funding round this year, following its S$1.7m (US$1.2m) in a seed round last year. Ow explained the funds would be used to expand its current 12-staff strong team, move into a new laboratory to expand its scientific capabilities and potentially expand overseas after the pandemic blows over.