The rebiana product, derived from stevia, was developed by Cargill and Coca-Cola last year in response to strong consumer demand for low-calorie food and beverage products. Although under current US regulations stevia cannot be sold as a sweetener, Cargill yesterday announced that when its product finally does come to market it will carry the brand name Truvia. Science The announcement came on the same day as research published online in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, which found that rebiana - a high-purity Rebaudioside A from stevia - is safe for use as a sweetener for foods and beverages. The overview said that studies found the ingredient met all current JEFCA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) specifications for steviol glycosides. It said the industry has been committed to "fully address regulatory requirements for this naturally occurring sweetener by providing the scientific basis to conclude high purity rebaudioside A (rebiana), produced under current GMP to food grade standards, is safe and appropriate for introduction into the global marketplace". The review could bring stevia - or at least rebiana - one step closer to the sweetener market. "The fact that it hasn't been allowed in food before is because the safety studies had not been done," Cargill Spokesperson Ann Tucker told FoodNavigator-USA.com. "Now the studies have been done and they have been published, and the FDA has been notified," she said. Stevia is currently approved on the US market as a dietary supplement. However, the largest markets for stevia are Japan and Korea. In Japan the ingredient has been used to sweeten diet drinks for around 20 years. Stevia sweeteners Rebiana is the common name for high-purity Rebaudioside A, which is derived from the South American plant stevia rebaudiana. It is a natural non-calorie sweetener said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar and is said to provide zero calories without undesirable taste characteristics. There has been much commercial interest in stevia sweeteners recently; however technical problems in reducing a bitter aftertaste, coupled with regulatory barriers have stopped it being widely marketed. According to the study published this week, there has been a "long history of use as therapeutic, food, herb and subject of research [which] has both helped and hindered the development of stevia-based sweeteners in countries with strong food regulatory systems". Leslie Curry, regulatory and scientific affairs director for Cargill food and ingredient systems, welcomed the recent study, saying: "These newly published data complement the body of existing scientific research on steviol glycosides, the sweet components of the stevia leaf." "The rebiana research program affirmed positive safety data from earlier studies on purified steviol glycosides and addressed unresolved questions resulting from studies with crude stevia extracts." Cargill and Coke partnership Cargill and Coca-Cola identified the potential of the ingredient in a market increasingly seeking 'natural' foods and beverages, and last year Coca-Cola filed 24 patent applications for the ingredient. Coca-Cola will have first rights to use the ingredient in beverages, while the two firms will also make it available for use in food products, where testing is already underway. Earlier this month, Chinese ingredients company GLG Life Tech signed a 10-year agreement to supply Cargill with an extract from the stevia plant to make its rebiana sweetener. The ingredients company, which sources stevia in China and processes the leaves at two plants in the south of the country, already had a five-year agreement with Cargill. Under the new deal, the agreement will run for 10 years and is automatically renewable until at least 2030. The two companies have worked closely for several years to develop a sophisticated supply chain for the ingredient, including leaf supply and extract manufacturing. The new agreement further cements the relationship and will allow for long-term development of Cargill's rebiana product.
Cargill yesterday gave a name to its stevia brand, further to the publication of an overview of the science supporting the use of rebiana as a sweetener.