A new plant-derived high intensity sweetener is set to hit the market worldwide, emerging as what could be the first natural sweetener to rival artificial counterparts such as aspartame and sucralose.
Brazzein, which is derived from a plant native to Africa, will be marketed globally under the brand name Cweet. The product is touted as being 1,000 times sweeter than cane sugar on a weight basis.
According to Natur Research Ingredients, the Californian company that has gained exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute the sweetener, scientists and the sweetener community have long been aware of brazzein's potential, but attempts to commercialize it as a sweetener have so far failed because of the lack of a practical manufacturing process to bring the product to market.
Natur Research chief executive officer Loren Miles now claims this obstacle has been overcome due to a production breakthrough achieved by a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Dr Fariba Assadi-Porter is said to have developed an expression and purification system suited to mass production. The protocols and sweetness profiles have been validated, according to Assasi-Porter, and the next step is the production scale-up phase.
Natur Research Ingredients, which has obtained the exclusive worldwide manufacturing and distribution license for the ingredient from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), claims this new product is in no way linked to the previous versions of brazzein that failed to reach the market.
"Cweet represents a whole new breakthrough with the ingredient," he told FoodNavigator-USA.com today.
The ingredient will not be available commercially for another 12 to 18 months, pending approval of a self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status that the company is currently preparing to submit to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Nevertheless, Miles claims that Cweet has already gathered interest from some of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, with which Natur Research has been "quietly discussing" the ingredient over the past three months.
The company said its GRAS approval should coincide with customer testing of the product, and the sweetener should be ready to hit the market once testing phases have been completed.
Nature Research Ingredients will also be targeting other markets worldwide, with Europe being one top priority. The first country to see the ingredient available commercially is likely to be the one with the fastest approval process, said Miles.
Within the next few months, Natur Research Ingredients expects to announce a manufacturing partner that it will work with in order to bring the product to market.
Cweet claims to have a similar taste profile to sugar, to be heat stable and water soluble, and to have no undesirable aftertaste. It also carries a no-calorie claim
In terms of pricing, Miles said it is still too early to tell where the product will be positioned, although the target price is set at a similar level to that of artificial counterpart sucralose on a per weight basis.
The ingredient should be suitable to use in any food and beverage product, with no particular formulation challenges foreseen at this stage. Depending on manufacturers' needs, it can be used to replace all artificial sweeteners in a product.
However, although the ingredient could well be positioned as the first natural alternative to artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame, the goal is not to nudge these ingredients out of the marketplace.
"There will always be a place for artificial sweeteners in the market. I don't see Cweet replacing aspartame and sucralose. All we're doing is providing manufacturers and ultimately consumers with a choice," Miles told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
Brazzein is a sweet protein extracted from the berries of a West African plant named Pentadiplandra Brazzeana. It was originally developed as a sugar alternative by University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers Goran Hellekant and Ding Ming in 1994. Since then, a series of patents have been filed on the ingredient.
Although some of these reference a synthetically produced peptide, Miles countered that he has not yet disclosed which patent his company will be using for its manufacturing process.
Nevertheless, he said that Natur Research is confident enough in its production process to be able to state that the sweetener is 'natural'.
"We are using the fruit as a source material for this ingredient. Within three to six months we should be ready to publicly announce further details, but we can disclose this information now to interested parties through a confidentiality agreement," he said.
For information on the original brazzein protein, click here .
To view one of the patents filed last year on the protein sweetener, click here .