The Next Generation Of Sweeteners

The next generation of sweeteners is already joining the market, their development driven by the global rise of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health concerns as well as goals to reach new heights in taste and performance. Plus, the new Nutrition Facts panel, even though delayed till 2020, will start highlighting the role of "added sugars" in food and beverage products. Global ingredient supplier Ingredion performed its own research that found 61 percent of consumers said "added sugar" on a nutrition label would negatively impact their purchase intent.

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Aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and saccharin have been the most popular non-nutritive sweeteners for decades, although consumer trends for natural ingredients have heralded the arrivals of stevia and monk fruit. Stevia has made some significant inroads, while monk fruit is still looking to get traction.

In the second quarter of 2017, the number of beverage and food products launched containing stevia increased 13 percent compared to the same period of 2016, according to Mintel Group data cited by stevia supplier PureCircle Ltd. The companies launching these new products with stevia, according to Mintel, include Coca-Cola Co., Danone, Kraft Heinz, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever.

When stevia first arrived on the scene – it was approved by the FDA for use in December 2008 – it was processed largely as it had been for centuries elsewhere in the world: with water extracting the sweetness from the stevia leaves, much like brewing tea. Chemical extraction, more efficient but less natural, followed. All efforts were on the most abundant sweetening component, rebaudioside-A.

While it was powerfully sweet and natural, reb-A did have a bitter or metallic aftertaste, which stymied stevia's penetration into many applications. But among further refinements of reb-A, the addition of taste modifiers or the blending with other sweeteners, even sugar, stevia eventually achieved significant penetration.

Recent stevia developments have focused on organic versions of the sweetener, its creation by fermentation and the development of other rebaudiosides, primarily reb-D and reb-M, which are found in much smaller quantities in the stevia plant and are more difficult to extract but which don't have the aftertaste of reb-A. At June's IFT Meeting & Expo, Cargill unveiled a collaboration with Evolva for the production and commercialization of reb-M and reb-D, which will be produced by fermentation at Cargill’s Blair, Neb., facility. The resulting product line, EverSweet, is expected to launch in 2018.

PureCircle delved deeply into the other rebaudiosides, particularly D and M, beginning in 2013. The company now has 14 different stevia sweeteners and flavors across its portfolio.

Not everyone is convinced those "new" rebaudiosides are the holy grails "Reb-D and M are exciting developments, but currently they remain cost prohibitive and most are produced via fermentation, so there are some questions as to how the products can be labeled," says Phillip Coggins, director of commercial sales for Pyure Brands LLC, Naples. Fla. "Pyure has developed reb-A-based products that contain smaller amounts of leaf extracted reb-D and M, making them viable and affordable. Pyure currently offers several unique glycoside blends, including Pyure Trio (reb A,C,D) and Pyure Prime (reb A, M). These are proprietary blends that are truly unique within the space.

"Organic and non-GMO remains the key focus at Pyure, so leaf extraction and avoiding enzymes or fermentation is important," Coggins continues. "In the future, there may be a way to produce organic and non-GMO reb-D and M (or other items that don’t exist yet), and Pyure continues to explore all opportunities."

Even as stevia and monk fruit work to gain traction, there are some novel newcomers rising up to challenge them.

One such sweetener is lucuma fruit powder, derived from the fiber-rich, subtropical fruit of the pouteria lucuma tree native to Peru, Chile and Ecuador. Lucuma has a subtle maple-like flavor that can help with sugar reduction or mask the aftertaste of stevia. BI Nutraceuticals offers the powder, as well as a water-soluble powder extract suitable for use in beverages.

Lucuma also is offered by Alquimia USA, Concord, Calif. At the recent Supply Side West trade show, the company showed a handful of natural sweeteners, including coconut sugar and yacon, a root that yields a powder about half as sweet as sugar, according to CEO Tamara Pfeiffer.

Monatin, commonly known as arruva, is a naturally occurring, high-intensity sweetener isolated from the root of a shrub, Sclerochiton ilicifolius, found in the Transvaal region of South Africa. Monatin contains no carbohydrates or sugar, but is a whopping 3,000 times sweeter, and has nearly no food energy, unlike sucrose and other nutritive sweeteners. It's said to have a superior taste to stevia and monkfruit, with a profile much closer to sugar, and its proponents claim it has no aftertaste. The bad news? Though it's luring tests by food scientists, monatin isn't yet commercially feasible to cultivate, extract and separate out the RR-monatin molecule. Some forms of production are reportedly being explored by a few ingredient companies.

Cargill began studying monatin back in 2012, but a company spokesman couldn't confirm if the company is still working on it.