Fi Europe 2019: Sweeteners in the spotlight as sugar reduction trends intensify
Industry balances sustainable production and naturalness in zero-calorie sweeteners
09 Dec 2019 --- Sugar reduction and naturality in ingredients were two pronounced trends at Fi Europe 2019, held in Paris last week, which showcased an array of zero-calorie sweeteners. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with sweetener suppliers on the show floor who offer insights on scalable solutions for the growing global demand for low and no-calorie solutions in food and beverage applications.
While Innova Market Insights has found that some macronutrients such as fats and certain carbohydrates have made a comeback throughout the years, sugar is consistently demonized and consequently, consumers are cutting their intake.
According to the market researcher’s Consumer Lifestyle and Attitudes Survey 2018, nearly seven out of ten consumers across the countries surveyed (US, UK, France, Germany, China and Brazil) have reduced their sugar intake. However, as consumers seek low-calorie solutions, they are also looking for natural or nutritious substitutes rather than artificial sweeteners.
Regulatory approval for the use of stevia in food and beverages was a win for food manufacturers who could utilize a high-intensity, zero-calorie sweetener with a “back to nature” approach. However, the subsequent high demand for stevia quickly made the ingredient unsustainable, leaving the industry searching for new approaches. “Just a few years ago, many companies were saying anything outside of classical plant extraction was the devil. Many of those players today are moving into bioconversion,” says Luca Giannone, Vice President, Sales & Marketing at Sweegen.
The biggest challenge to classical extraction is getting the high-quality tasting molecules Reb M and Reb D from the stevia leaf. These occur in such small quantities that “you would have to cover the entirety of France to meet the demand,” says Giannone. So when extraction is no longer possible, the question remains: How far away do you go from the plant?
Bio-conversion and fermentation
One method of producing more Reb M and D is through bioconversion. This technique uses common stevia molecules like steviol glycoside as a substrate and an enzyme to activate the reaction creating bigger molecules. These bigger molecules more closely resemble the taste profile of sugar, effectively yielding Reb M and Red D in high quantities.
Praised for its scalability and consistency, fermentation can create steviol glycosides Reb M and Reb D without requiring any stevia at all. Through a process of fermentation, raw materials such as dextrose can be leveraged to produce the sweet-tasting molecules in stevia. Cargill and DSM recently began production of Reb M and Reb D through fermentation in the US, via their joint venture Avansya. Commercial products using the joint brand EverSweet have just hit the shelves in the US and Avansya is planning to expand across more categories in the New Year.
“We look at stevia holistically,” says Tommy Lykke Husum, Senior Product Manager SFI (EMEA) at Tate & Lyle. “Stevia is a journey. There have been several generations of stevia to where we are today. Typically sugar replacement is about taking sugar out and putting stevia in. Today, what we’re trying to do is use it as a flavor modifying technology product (FMP) that helps open up the flavor.”
Giannone also notes that stevia may be used for improving mouthfeel or texture. Highlighting consumer demand for a unique feel, which comes second only to taste, “Tapping into Texture” was named one of Innova Market Insights’ 2020 top trends. Sweeteners may also be used to enrich products with protein, according to developments by Amai Proteins. Although the Isreali company reports that it is still years away from product launch, it is already in discussions with PepsiCo, Danone, Ocean Spray and others, according to the founder and CEO, Ilan Samish, Ph.D.
Amai Proteins took home the Most Innovative Food or Beverage Ingredient award of the “Startup Innovation Challenge” at FiE. The company has developed a method of creating sweet-tasting proteins derived from fruit using biotechnology. The proteins are fully soluble in water and are stable for pasteurization and other heat-resistance treatments. The company also reports that the protein’s sweetness is 10,000 times sweeter compared to sugar in a concentration of 5 percent (5 brix). As with other sweeteners and unlike sugar, the dose-response curve is not linear, so in lower sweetening concentrations, the relative sweetness is higher and vice versa.
Using cloud-computing based Agile-Integrative Computational Protein Design (AI-CPD), the protein’s amino acid sequence is redesigned to fit it to the mass food market as to taste, yield, stability (temperature, pH, fatty environment). The novel protein can then be propagated and scaled up in a yeast medium. Once the yeast is filtered out, the final product is 100 percent protein.
“The yeast is legally termed a ‘processing agent’ with the final product being 100 percent protein with no trace of the yeast. As such, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the final product is considered GMO-free.”
Amai Proteins has not yet filed for approval with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) for GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. However, the company says it “has done extensive analysis, through external accredited labs following the general requirements of the regulatory divisions in these multinationals.” It is currently in the scale-up phase to ensure high-yield production and expects the protein to be 90 percent cheaper than sugar in sweetness units.
Meanwhile, Sweegen just received a positive note from EFSA for its bioconverted stevia which has already been scaled up in other parts of the world. “We believe we are in the sweet spot of naturalness and scalability,” says Gianonne. Reb M and D molecules created using the process of fermentation are still awaiting EFSA’s go-ahead. However, in 2016, the FDA issued a GRAS No Objection Letter for the next-generation sweetener EverSweet, which is currently being produced in the US.
As consumers continue to ask for natural, low-calorie sweeteners with a great taste, a range of solutions are coming into the market. Several of these seek to close the gap between halo-topped sources like stevia and what is commercially viable for the food manufacturer.
By Missy Green
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