Tuesday, May 14, 2013


The non-nutritive sweetener market can never be the same after the run away success of Stevia sugars which are to day marketed as a natural low calorie/ no calorie sweetener globally. The dominance of synthetic sweeteners like Aspartame till the arrival of Stevia offered no choice to consumers with diabetes or those wanting to cut down on calories in their diet but Stevia changed all that and to day it is overwhelmingly being accepted by the consumer with least reservation. Probably attraction to every thing that is natural by the present day consumer society is pulling in more and players intent to develop sweeteners like Stevia. Recent arrival of Monk fruit sugar being made popular among low calories adherents is another attempt to tap this rich market. Like Stevia which has complex steviosides that contribute to sweetness, Monk fruit contains migrosides which have 300 times the sweetening power compared to sucrose. Hot on the heels are others like sweeteners made from the fruits of Oubli grown in West Africa. Here is a take on this emerging development which may have far reaching future implications in the low calorie sweetener market. 

Hot on the heels of the stevia and monk fruit revolution is asweetener derived from the West African fruit of the climbing plant Oubli, Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon. Oubli has been long recognized by natives of the Gabon Republic, a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa, and Cameroon for its sweetness. The sweet compound is called brazzein, and is an extracellular protein found in the pulp surrounding the seeds of the berry. First isolated as an enzyme by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in 1994, the super-sweet protein is now expressed in bacteria in order to lower the cost of production and eliminate the need for farming. After sequencing the DNA that codes for brazzein, researchers could use bacteria as little cellular factories that churn out the highly sweet protein. The newly formulated final product will be marketed under the name Cweet by Natur Research Ingredients, Los Angeles. Boasting a sweetening power 1,000 times that of sucrose, Cweet is promoted as a natural, easily dissolved and heat-stable sweetener that leaves no aftertaste. Stability at high temperatures makes the sweetener appropriate for baked applications as well as beverages. Since it's a protein, it weighs in at 4 calories per gram, but with a 1,000:1 replacement value for sucrose, it is essentially zero calories. 

How far this sweetener will compete with established non-sugar sweeteners is is matter of speculation right now though it does have the potential to become a significant player provided the plant is taken up for cultivation in an organized way. The economics also can pose challenge and the ultimate commercial viability will very much depend on the consumer cost. Though the process of extracting the sweet fraction is rather simple as it is concentrated in the pulp portion that surrounds the berry, still as it becomes popular questions regarding the safety of the product for long term use in humans are bound to be raised. The biggest advantage is that it is the most intense sweetener known so far with a 1 to 1000 sweetness ratio compared to sucrose though it cannot be categorized as a zero calorie sweetener in the strict sense as it does yield about calories per gm but as the quantity required to impart required sweetness in food products is so minuscule that it will not contribute any significant calories to the products. It is necessary that the quest for unveiling many such low calorie sweeteners from natural sources with as high sweetness intensity as possible be continued since sugar cane cultivation is increasingly becoming unsustainable and the population requiring sugarless products for managing obesity and diabetes is expanding rapidly.  


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