Stevia-derived sweeteners have soared in popularity – particularly in the United States after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first letters of no objection that the high-purity stevia extract known as Reb A was generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in December 2008. Blue California received a GRAS non-objection letter from the FDA in July 2009 for its 99 percent pure Reb A ingredient.
Blue California’s executive vice president Cecilia McCollum told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the company’s researchers in the US and China have been working on developing a fermentation method for Reb A extraction for the past 18 months. However, because it relies on proprietary technology, she added that the company could not reveal further details about how the fermentation process works.
The company said that using fermentation would ‘practically eliminate’ concerns from the food and beverage industry about availability, while ensuring high purity and competitive pricing.
McCollum said in a statement: “This innovative process will also allow us to develop unique combinations of several purified compounds from stevia in the near future and offer this natural sweetener at a price that can be more comparable to the price of sugar.”
In addition, she said that the company is currently working on using components of the stevia leaf other than Reb A for their potential as flavor modifiers.
Blue California’s president of R&D and innovation Stephen Chen said: “We are pleased to announce that we have reached the final phase of our research on the fermentation process for Reb A… From the very beginning of our work with purified stevia compounds, our ultimate goal was to produce these ingredients through a natural fermentation process in order to control purity and availability.”
Currently companies offering high-purity Reb A stevia extracts tend to use water extraction, followed by a refining process that involves using separation technologies to isolate the various steviol glycosides.