The technology, launched earlier this year, looks at the various steviol glycosides individually, said Andrew Ohmes, business process manager for Cargill. The taste prediction model helps the company blend different amounts of the various glycosides for best results, he said.
Cargill an early leader in stevia
“This is a completely new stevia technology. If you look at the history of stevia, the first development was the high Reb A products. Cargill did a lot of the work to get GRAS approval for high Reb A products, and they work really well in table top applications, like our Truvia brand,” Ohmes told FoodNavigator-USA at the SupplySide West trade show recently in Las Vegas, NV.
But after the inital burst of enthusiasm for stevia, the negatives began to surface, Ohmes said. Stevia itself is zero calories, but the ingredient’s intense sweetness and tendency to linger on the tongue provided a much different experience than sugar, with a signifcant amount of bitterness to go with the sweetness, and off flavor notes that crop up at teh end of the linger period that most consumers likened to licorice. The ingredient’s shortcomings gave rise to an entire cottage industry of stevia ‘toolkits’ aimed at fixing, or at least masking, the ingredients flavor shortcomings. It’s a testament to the enormous promise of the ingredient that formulators have stuck with it for so long.
But the toolkits have gone only so far, Ohmes said.
“Taking calories down by 30% with stevia works well. Beyond that, and the bitterness becomes too much,” he said.
For Cargill, the answer lies within the leaf itself, Ohmes said. The stevia leaf has a wealth of material to work with.
“There are 40 glycosides in the leaf. Each has its own attributes around sweetness, bitterness and linger,” he said.
This is where the taste modeling comes into play. Ohmes said the matrix of taste attributes can be tweaked by using various concentrations of the given glycosides.
“We took all that work understanding the different glycosides and we looked at how to put them together. If we purify the stevia leaf we look at for the glycosides that have the most sweetness, the least bitterness and the least linger,” he said.
At the show, Cargill was highlighting two ViaTech-sweetened prototypes: a chocolate milk and a sweet tea. The company has also done formulation testing in other food and beverage matricies, including the most difficult of all: carbonated soft drinks.
“We targeted the most difficult applications. One of the first was to use the technology in a lemon-lime carbonated soft drink. You really don’t have anywhere to hide in there; the lemon-lime doesn’t provide a whole lot of flavor to mask a sweetener,” Ohmes said. “Our customers can acheive lower calorie targets using ViaTech than they could without it.”
Using the taste precition technolgy, Cargill has come up with various combinaitons of glycosides for specific calorie reduction targets, which can range up to 70%. All that technolgoy comes at a price. But Cargill said the cost-in-use compares favorably to competing formulations, when the cost of the various add-ons that make straight Reb A acceptable are taken into consideration.
Glycosides from leaf
A question that always hovers over botanical ingredient extraction is the level of the various compounds of interest in the source material. Ohmes said ViaTech is concentrated on working with glycosides from the leaf only. But Cargill is working with Evolva on fermented glycosides, and the technology could presumably be applied to that effort in the future.
Ohmes said the work Cargill has done to characterize the various glycosides pays off in confidence for customers. The company can back with data its claims of how the ViaTech variants will perform, he said.
“We have four variants right now and between those we could really cover all applications,” Ohmes said. “I think it will continue to evolve as more and more things come out of the stevia leaf. Everybody comes in here and says they have the solution to stevia’s problems. But we are the only ones that can show the science behind our claims,” Ohmes said.