Shaking up sugar reduction: New tech for beverages

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/handmadepictures
Pic:getty/handmadepictures

Related tags: sugar reduction

From protein sweeteners to lesser known steviol glycosides, we take a look at some of the latest developments in up-and-coming tech in beverage sugar reduction.

Protein sweetener readies to hit the market

Plant-based ingredients company Roquette and its German biotech partner BRAIN are looking to take their protein sweetener Brazzein into approval and production.

Announcing the completion of the R&D phase this month, the companies are looking to upscale production and hope to bring the sweetener to market within the next three to four years.

Brazzein is a protein sweetener which is naturally found in African berries Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon​. This high intensive sweetener provides an ‘outstanding sweetening potency still preserving taste profile and sugar free functionality’, according to the companies. 

The sweetener has been developed especially for the beverage industry.

Scaling up juice sugar reduction tech 

Israeli food tech start-up Better Juice is scaling up its sugar reduction solution through a partnership with German process engineering company GEA announced this month.

Founded in 2017, the start-up’s enzymatic technology uses all-natural ingredients to convert fructose, glucose, and sucrose into prebiotic dietary fibers and other non-digestible molecules. It says it can reduce up to 80% of sugars in orange juice. Better Juice’s non-GMO technology is designed to target the specific sugar composition in orange juice to naturally create a low-calorie, reduced-sugar product with a delicate sweetness, without sweeteners or other additives used to replace the sugars.

GEA will engineer, design, manufacture and install the bioreactor that reduces sugars via Better Juice’s proprietary enzymatic process. Better Juice will produce the immobilized microorganisms for the enzymatic process.

Better Juice says it wants to transform the global juice industry through its technology for reducing all sugars in orange juices.

Sugar blocker

Swiss biotech company Evolva has launched L-arabinose, which is both a sugar blocker and a reducing sugar.

Sweet tasting L-arabinose is a pentose sugar, meaning it is a five-carbon simple carbohydrate (monosaccharide). It can be derived from hemicellulose, which is naturally present in plant materials, such as sugar beet pulp.

“As a sugar blocker, L-arabinose works by blocking the body’s ability to digest sucrose,” ​​Evolva’s head of investor and corporate relations, Barbara Duci, explained. It does this by inhibiting the sucrase enzyme, which breaks down sucrose in the small intestine.

“Studies show that L-arabinose as a sugar blocker can support healthy blood sugar levels and weight management. It also has potential application as a prebiotic.”

At the same time, L-arabinose is a reducing sugar, meaning it can act as a reducing agent. “As a reducing sugar, L-arabinose is frequently applied in the production of Maillard reaction flavours,” ​​the investor and corporate relations lead explained, referencing the reaction responsible for many colors and flavors in foods – such as the browning and umami taste in fried onions and coffee roasting.

L-arabinose taste profile is suited for use in products such as soft drinks, yogurt, chocolate, ice cream, cereal, power bars and confectionery.

Tagatose

One of tagatose's biggest challenges has been cost-effective production. The ingredient can be expected to retail for around $26/kg - the same amount of sugar costs less than 50 cents. 

Bonumose is a US start-up that is developing new tech for production of tagatose and allulose: potentially reducing production costs to <$2/kg and eventually to HFCS cost levels. It will be starting up commercial production later this year. 

The company uses its proprietary enzymatic technology platform to convert abundant plant-based feedstocks to rare sugars via three patented breakthoughs: irreversible enzymatic reactions; low cost and globally-abundant starch feedstocks; and continuous production processes with standard HFCS/sugar equipment. 

"Tagatose is suitable for all beverages: including but not limited to soft drinks, fruit juices, tea, coffee, dairy-based drinks, non-dairy alternatives to dairy,"​ the company told us.

"Tagatose is processed in the human gut the same way fiber is. The amount consumed in one meal should be limited to ~30 grams. Therefore, in heavily sweetened beverages tagatose is best when blended with a high-intensity sweetener or sugar. Tagatose not only tastes great on its own (90% as sweet as sucrose), but it also blends well with stevia and other high-intensity sweeteners to balance out the sweetness onset and lingering, overcome bitterness, and add mouthfeel."

Reb N stevia 

Stevia specialist SweeGen has commercialized Reb N, a lesser-known steviol glycoside “with a unique sensory profile… that makes it especially attractive for beverage applications.”

Rebaudioside N – which is found in trace quantities of the stevia leaf, making it difficult and expensive to isolate - is produced via SweeGen's patented ‘bioconversion’ process, which begins with stevia leaf extracts, and then uses enzymes to convert them to specific target molecules (such as Reb I, D, M, etc.).

“Bestevia Reb N has a unique sweet profile that helps us create solutions that have a taste profile closer to both full-calorie and high intensity sweeteners. Our solutions are one of the most unique and tailored in the industry because of our access to the widest range of Rebs for sugar reduction,” ​said Shari Mahon, SVP of global application technology.

Reb M from sugarcane

Amyris is rolling out RealSweet, a zero calorie sweet molecule naturally derived from sugarcane (fermented sugarcane Reb M).

Reb M is typically only found in low concentration in stevia leaves, making it nearly impossible to extract in its pure form. Consequently, most stevia sweeteners are blends from the leaves, which result in a bitter aftertaste.

"Because we use biotechnology to create Reb M by fermenting sugarcane, instead of traditional harvesting and purification processes, Amyris is able to produce pure Reb M that is exactly the same as the molecule found in the leaf, so it is natural and it tastes better,"​ explains the company.

"This is significant in the market, as more than 80% of US consumers think artificial sweeteners taste worse than sugar, and since Reb M is zero glycemic, those with diabetes or pre-diabetes can once again enjoy the sweet tastes that they may have foregone for health reasons. Our studies have shown that Reb M works very well in all beverages, including teas, sodas, juices, protein shakes, and even cocktails. Depending on the beverage recipe and application, our RealSweet ranges from 300x to 500x sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way."

The company also champions the environmental advantages of the product. The feedstock - sugarcane - is regenerative; and the agricultural acreage required is 1/8th of that required for stevia. The sugarcane processing waste can be used to cogenerate electricity to power the production plant. 

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