Special edition: Natural sweeteners

Beyond stevia: Will brazzein make the natural sweeteners premier league?

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sweeteners Stevia

Oubli berries (Picture credit: C. M. Hladik)
Oubli berries (Picture credit: C. M. Hladik)
The entrepreneur behind Cweet - a natural high-intensity sweetener from a protein called brazzein- says he expects to secure regulatory approval to sell it in the US in one to two years.

A protein derived from the berry of the West African plant Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon, ​Cweet (brazzein) is 2,500 - 4,000 times sweeter than sucrose on a weight basis (based on which version is selected), making it more cost-effective in-use than stevia or monk fruit, said Loren Miles, CEO of LA-based Natur Research Ingredients.

Production costs are also lower owing to the patented bio-fermentation process employed to produce it on a commercial scale, Miles told Foodnavigator-USA.

A strategic partner with global reach

As extracting brazzein from the berries is expensive and undesirable from a sustainability perspective, Miles has acquired the license to produce it from food grade bacteria using a patented process developed by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The brazzein this produces can still be listed as brazzein on the ingredients label and is just as ‘natural’ as the original, he added: “We are using the fruit as the source material for this ingredient.”

"Bio-fermentation technology makes it possible, using food-grade bacteria commonly used today for many foods and beverages, to grow a large quantity of brazzein in large tank vessels in a matter of days. 

"The results have proven to be highly cost effective, maintains a high level of standardization that meets or exceeds current quality control standards, and as compared to conventional farming is a fraction of the carbon footprint.​"

While leading food and beverage companies are already evaluating samples of the sweetener, Miles is seeking a strategic partner with global reach to help him distribute it to the mass market.

We’ve perfected the manufacturing process but we’re looking for a partner, ideally with expertise in the sweeteners business, to handle distribution.”

There is no magic bullet in this market

While stevia and monk fruit are further down the road from a commercialization perspective, there is clearly room in the market for multiple natural sweeteners, he said.

‘It’s not about displacing stevia, there is no magic bullet in this market, and all sweeteners, natural and artificial, have strengths and weaknesses.”

Easy to use

Brazzein works well in combination with monk fruit, stevia and sucrose, claims Miles

Whereas “monk fruit has ajuicy-fruit-type candy taste profile and stevia has a licorice aftertaste​”, brazzein has more of a “sucrose-type profile that makes it easier for formulators to use​”, claimed Miles.

Brazzein is water soluble, stable at high temperatures and across a wide pH range, has no bitter aftertaste and a taste profile closer to sucrose than other protein-based natural sweeteners such as thaumatin or monellin, he said.

“It has a lingering aftertaste and a slight delay in the sweetness.”

Brazzein also has a lower carbon footprint than stevia or monk fruit, he added. “We don’t need loads of land or water or energy to manufacture our product.

“We’re not growing thousands of fruit trees and using up acres of land. Our biofermentation process is a more sustainable production method. We also have a consistent product.”

Stevia 'temporarily occupied a singular focus in the natural sweetener category' - but firms are now looking at other products

Asked why it had taken so long to get brazzein to market - as his firm had put out a press release in 2008 saying he was seeking a partner to commercialize it - Miles said: "2008 - 2011 was not the optimum 'risk taking' period in the sweetener category, unless you were Cargill or launching stevia. ​ 

"Food and beverage companies were also attempting to ascertain what place stevia should hold for their natural sweetening solutions, which temporarily occupied a singular focus in the natural sweetener category.  In 2012, food and beverage companies are once again looking for alternatives and combinations of existing systems with Cweet (brazzein)."​ 

On the regulatory front, he added: "Natur Research Ingredients chose to perfect and optimize the manufacturing process first, prior to seeking regulatory approval, given that this is required for achieving success in obtaining regulatory approval.  ​ 

"One cannot apply for regulatory approval, make improvements in the manufacturing process and continue with the same regulatory process."

Los Angeles-based Natur Research Ingredients Inc is a sister company to Natur Research Foods Inc, which has developed low-GI sweetening products for retailers and food manufacturers including Natur Baker's Blend Natural Sweetener, which has 40% fewer calories than sugar.

Miles - who has 35 years’ experience in the natural products industry - is the sole owner of both businesses.

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