Rate-limiting foods have always been sort of big with dieters—rice cakes, celery, anything that requires some chewing without a huge calorie payoff. Everyone is trying to eat healthier in a lifestyle sense, but still struggling with how addictive certain foods and types of calories are, biologically if not also emotionally.
This struggle has food brands rushing into the volume-for-few-calories space, but with new tools at their disposal, mostly in the form of artificial sweeteners that, ideally, do not make us sick (one example is sugar alcohols, which are what make things like Sugar Bear Hair gummies sweet; I have at least one friend who once ate more than the recommended dose for a snack because they had “no calories” and ended up with a stomachache). There is nothing wrong with artificial sweeteners in moderation, healthwise, which means that there is a vast spectrum of nutritional content that these companies can now access. Food and drinks can have as little or as much sugar as we choose, and “none” isn’t always the correct choice; if a little sugar makes something taste a lot better, for instance, maybe the drink of our calorically moderate future is not Diet Coke or Coke Zero, but Coke Light. The ice cream of our future is not, I don’t know, ice shavings, but Halo Top, or Yasso frozen yogurt bars, or Arctic Zero.
In this spirit, Smart Sweets enters the market with chewy fruit-candy-adjacent snacks: “Sweet Fish” and “Sour Blast Buddies.” As candies go, Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids are canny choices to imitate. Swedish Fish, while sugary, are not that sweet to begin with, so an artificial sweetener doesn’t have to bend over too far backwards to try and match the taste. Sour Patch Kids’ sweetness are offset by their sour acidic coating, which would help mask any artificial sweetener tang. For that trouble, Smart Sweets are about half the calories of actual candy (80 calories per 50 grams, instead of 190) and only 3g sugar per serving, versus 35 grams in the real stuff (Smart Sweets is primarily “prebiotic soluble fiber” derived from tapioca).
All of my coworkers who tried these varieties and were forced to report their impressions agreed they were not even close to dead ringers for the real thing. Swedish Fish are a little stiff and waxy, and Sour Patch Kids have some resistance to them. Being made out of soluble fiber (think jelly-ish texture of soaked chia seeds), their Smart Sweets counterparts have no bounce to them; one of my co-workers described them as “jammy,” more like fruit snacks or Fruit Roll-ups than real candy. But for their textural and flavor shortcomings, would anyone actually buy them just to have a pile of vaguely sweet things to chew on that would last as long as the real thing, but for half the calories? Reactions were mixed. Most felt they would rather have smaller amounts of the real thing. The fish have an nice upfront tart note, but leave a stronger sweetener vacuum in my mouth after chewing and swallowing than the “sour blast buddies.” But artificial sweeteners don’t cut through the acidic coating on the sour candy like real sugar does, so the balance takes too long to get going and then peters out in an unsatisfying way.
Instead of diets that stop and start, we are supposed to eat healthier all the time. This makes the threshold for success for a food like Smart Sweets not being a temporary alternative, but actually replacing sugar candy, on the hope that someday people won’t risk ingesting too much sugar from any food, even in intentionally sweet foods. There is food that tastes good and food that is functional, nutritionally, and new foods are streaming into that overlap. Soon we may not be choosing the Smart Sweets; they may be chosen for us.