Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA at the recent IFT show in Chicago, Yuma Tani, deputy manager of Matsutani’s overseas business R&D section, said that while there is a lot of interest in the US, there are no commercial retail products at this stage (although it is playing in some dietary supplement products).
“‘Rare sugars’ is becoming a buzz phrase in Japan,” he said. Consumer research performed by the company in 2015 showed that 40-50% of consumers knew the phrase. In 2016 that had increased to 60%.
“In Japan there are about 2,000 skus with allulose or a mixture of rare sugars,” he said. “We’re selling to 400-500 companies in Japan.”
‘Low calorie sugar’
Allulose, also known as psicose, is a monosaccharide and contains virtually no calories (0.2-0.4 kcal/gram vs sugar at 4 kcal/gram). It has the bulk, texture and taste of regular sugar, and 70% of the sweetness.
The sugar works well with high potency sweeteners such as stevia and sucralose, can be used to reduce or replace sugar in everything from beverages, yogurt and ice cream to baked products, candies, salad dressings, gum, cereals and sugar substitutes.
It also browns during baking, depresses the freezing point when making frozen products, and is highly-soluble, which means it is easy to use in liquid products.
Matsutani has been developing the ingredient for 15 years, said Tani, and offers it under the Astraea brand. The company received a letter of no objection from the FDA about the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of the ingredient in 2014.
Quest Labs is testing allulose in a new trial product.
“We are really excited about allulose because it doesn't raise your blood sugar, but if you quickly look at the Nutrition Facts label, you’d think oh this product has 10g sugar, so we see Quest Labs as a great forum to communicate with our fans about what the ingredient is," said Nick Robinson, Chief Marketing Officer of Quest Nutrition.
“We have lots of know-how about the product, the safety data, formulation data. There are a couple of companies that can do it with the same levels of quality as us. As pioneers in allulose we see this competition as a good thing because attracting followers means you have a good product. We sometimes even talk with our competitors to develop the allulose market together.”
(Tate & Lyle also offers the ingredient under the Dolcia Prima brand.)
‘We cannot say reduced sugar but we could say reduced calorie’
When the sugar was first identified years ago the costs were excessive (a gram could cost $400, said Tani), but researchers from the Rare Sugar Research Center at Kagawa University found an enzyme to convert fructose to allulose in 1994, and the production is now approaching $5-10 per lb, said Tani.
“We’re targeting lower costs, but it’s supply and demand dynamics. The more demand, the more we can ramp up supply and the price will come down.” Right now the company is only producing in Japan, because that is where the demand is, he said.
The low calorie nature of the sugar is linked to how the body treats it. Between 70 and 80% is absorbed in the intestine, and is eventually excreted in urine, explained Tani. The other 20-30% passes into the large intestine where it does not ferment but passes out in the feces.
“On a nutrition facts panel it will be listed as, for example, 10 grams of sugar, but zero calories. This could confuse consumers. We need a proper way of communicating this. We cannot say reduced sugar but we can maybe say reduced calorie,” he said.