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Could it be second time lucky for low-cal bulk sweetener Tagatose?

By Elaine Watson , 18-May-2012
Last updated on 18-May-2012 at 16:59 GMT

Belgian firm Nutrilab NV is preparing to introduce low-calorie, low glycemic bulk sweetener Tagatose to North and South America later this year, six years after dairy giant Arla Foods pulled the plug on the ingredient claiming it was not commercially viable.

D-tagatose, which is 92% as sweet as sucrose and tastes very like it, has 1.5 cal/g compared with 4 cal/g for sucrose and does not raise blood sugar levels, making it suitable for diabetics and prediabetics. It also has prebiotic effects.

It was first produced in industrial quantities in 2002 via a joint venture between Arla Foods and Nordzucker called SweetGredients.  But production stopped in 2006 after the pair struggled to make a business case.

However, Nutrilab NV, a subsidiary of Belgian company Damhert, has just opened a 10,000t Tagatose production facility near Rome, Italy, and says it is confident it can succeed where Arla failed.

Consumer products, then industrial ingredients

While its production method is more cost efficient than Arla’s it also has a different commercial strategy, Dr Christian Vastenavond, director R&D nutraceuticals & international operations, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“The way Arla approached the market was top down. Meaning first convince manufacturers so that they can develop products with it and bring to the market. It never worked.

“Big companies are the slowest to react to a trend, ingredient or product. We work bottom up, meaning we first develop and produce consumer products and put these on the shelves so the consumer gets to know the product and the ingredient.

“Since all the products we have on the market are really very tasty, consumers tend to repeat [purchase] and the market starts growing.

“Once manufacturers see how the market reacts, they tend to follow relatively rapidly. First the smaller ones, then the big multinationals. We experienced that in Europe. The same will happen in the US.

“[So] we will start here in the US as we did in Europe. Bringing first finished products to the supermarkets to create consumer awareness and later, while US manufacturers conclude their production tests with Tagatose, we will start supplying them from 2013.”

Chocolate, sweets, bakery, beverages

He added: “Negotiations with importers and brokers are reaching a fruitful outcome.”

The most interest in the US was coming from “chocolates, sweets, bakery and finally beverages, in that order”, he said.

“Several multinationals have been testing the application of our Tagatose with success and negotiations for regular supply are now under way. The first Tagatose-sweetened consumer products will be available on US supermarket shelves in the second half of this year.

“The appeal is that it is low calorie, low GI, it’s suitable for diabetics and has an exact sugar taste.”

The production process

To make Tagatose, Nutrilab NV hydrolyzes lactose from whey permeate into glucose and galactose. This is then followed by an isomerization process of galactose using an L-arabinose isomerase, said Dr Vastenavond.

After Cheetham published his report about the production of Tagatose using a lactic acid bacterium, Arabinose Isomerase (AI) was more and more considered to be a potential candidate to isomerize galactose into Tagatose.

“In 2007 Nutrilab NV managed to develop a biological process to isomerize galactose, thus innovating the first commercially rewarding production method.

“We patented the enzyme adaptations that create the effective and stable Tagatose isomerization.”

While the galactose is extracted from lactose, no trace of lactose is found in the final product, however, making D-tagatose suitable for lactose intolerant consumers, he added.

Baking with D-tagatose

Unlike some other sweeteners, Tagatose provokes a strong Maillard (browning) reaction, said Dr Vastenavond.

However, in order to avoid the possibility of “pastry turning black in the oven”, Nutrilab NV has developed Tagatesse, which contains Tagatose (39.92%), isomalt (39.92%),  fibers (20.14%: inulin and oligosaccharides) and sucralose (0.02%) for bakery applications, he said.

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