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Pre-launch interest booms as natural sweetener gets GRAS

By Lorraine Heller , 12-Jun-2006

The recent regulatory approval for a fruit-derived natural sweetener could open new doors to food and beverage manufacturers looking to clean up their product labels.

PureLo, a high intensity, non-caloric sweetener made from a fruit grown exclusively in China, claims to be ideal for use in sweetener blends to achieve an optimal sweetness profile.

The product, which is due to be launched at the IFT show later this month, already claims to have attracted significant interest from major food, beverage and confectionary companies, said its New Zealand-based manufacturer BioVittoria.

According to the company, interest in the product has surged after it was declared GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by an independent expert panel of scientists last month. The company is also in the process of applying for FDA confirmation of it GRAS status.

Derived from the Chinese fruit luo han, PureLo is around 300 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used in China as a natural sweetener for centuries, after being dried, sliced and made into a solution by local communities.

But until now, the product has suffered from several drawbacks. These include a strong licorice off-taste, and an unstable supply due to the fruit's problematic cultivation.

But together with its Chinese partner, BioVittoria has developed a breeding program using tissue culturing to create a resistant, high-yielding variety of the plant, which ensures security of supply.

And through its extraction process, which removes impurities and results in a 'cleaner' product, the company also claims to have removed the off-taste.

"The sweet component of the luo han fruit is called a mogroside. This is highly water soluble, which is why our extraction process simply involves immersing the fruit in hot water and then using a macro porous filtration process to pull out the magrosides," said BioVittoria's chief executive officer David Thorrold.

Luo han is protected by the Chinese government, meaning the fruit can only be grown in China. BioVittoria is not the only supplier of a natural sweetener derived from luo han, but it does hold plant variety rights to the seeds it uses, and claims no other product matches the quality of its sweetener.

The company also said the GRAS status of the product is unique to the processing method used to obtain PureLo.

PureLo is marketed as ideal for use in a sweetener blend, and can be combined well with a number of other sweeteners, particularly erythritol and inulin. It can also be used in blends with tagatose or as a part replacer of sugar, said BioVittoria.

And although PureLo claims not to have an off-taste, it does have a "slightly different type of sweetness," according to the company, and this sweetness is slightly slow in onsetting, which is why the product is best used in blends.

"PureLo complements what is already out there. It has characteristics that go well with other sweeteners, especially since most applications need a high-intensity sweetener as part of the blend," Thorrold told FoodNavigator-USA.

But the market for the product as a sweetener is still relatively niche, although there are signs this could pick up rapidly. Cultivation of BioVittoria's variety of luo han remains in early stages, with the company planning to produce around 25 to 40 tons of the sweetener this season.

"We've had a huge amount of interest and we are picking our customers carefully in order to be able to guarantee supply to anyone we partner with. But we're working together with the Chinese government, which is very supportive, and we'll be able to ramp up production very quickly, maybe doubling or tripling it by next year," said BioVittoria's co-founder and managing director Steve LeFebvre.

BioVittoria, which will be introducing PureLo at the IFT through its US distributor Barrington Nutritionals, is also due to give a presentation as part of the show's innovation seminars.

For more information on PureLo click here .

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