The start-up - which says the first products containing its enhanced sugar could hit the market next year – uses an inert mineral particle (silica) as a carrier for sugar molecules such that they bond to the silica via non-covalent chemistry (the process does not involve the sharing of electrons).
The sucrose molecules surround and coat the silica particle to form structures that our taste receptors perceive to be sweeter than a comparable amount of sugar in free unassociated form – enabling sugar reductions of 20-40%, depending on the application. The ‘enhanced’ sugar performs – and tastes – just like regular sugar (you can freeze it, heat it, bake it), can be listed as ‘sugar’ on the ingredients list (the silica is an incidental additive).
When DouxMatok sugar is consumed, the sugar component (sucrose) is metabolized as normal and the silica (which is tasteless, odorless and calorie-free) passes through the body and is excreted.
So how will this technology – which DouxMatok aims to introduce when sugar is at the syrup stage (ie. before it’s been crystalized, so DouxMatok doesn’t have to resolubilize it) - get to market?
Logically, it makes sense to partner with sugar refiners, while the firm has been working closely with major CPG manufacturers interested in using the enhanced sugar, DouxMatok CEO Eran Baniel told FoodNavigator-USA.
From a financing perspective, however, DouxMatok didn’t want to link too early with a strategic investor, he said: “You don’t do this when you’re not in a position to offer exclusivity. Coke or Pepsi won’t agree to a new ingredient sourced by one party worldwide, impossible.
“And once you have a sugar refiner on your board, no one is going to touch you with a bargepole, so that’s a non-starter, so we’d be better off to partner or to have strategic partners coming from the guys that make chocolate or candies or baked goods, because that would lead the door open to working with as many refiners as we think we should have on board.”
The technology behind DouxMatok was created by CEO Eran Baniel’s father, Avraham Baniel, who worked as a consultant with Tate & Lyle to develop sucralose and came up with the technology underpinning DouxMatok -which means ‘double sweet’ in French and Hebrew – in his nineties.
Based in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, DouxMatok – which was founded in 2014 and recently tied up with the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Boston – raised $3.5m in an initial funding round and has just raised $8.1m in its second round.
Will manufacturers – in the interests of transparency - choose to label the silica in DouxMatok on the ingredients list, even if it’s only present in tiny quantities (less than 0.5% of DouxMatok ‘sugar’ is silica)?
According to DouxMatok chief technology officer Alejandro Marabi, PhD, the silica serves as a carrier (an incidental additive), and does not have to be declared on the ingredients list, although some manufacturers may wish to do so in the interests of complete transparency.
From a regulatory perspective, silica is a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food additive that is widely used in the food industry as everything from an anti-caking agent to an emulsifier (currently the FDA permits the use of silicon dioxide at up to 2% by weight of a food).
While both components (silica and sucrose) are GRAS, DouxMatok has prepared a GRAS determination for the enhanced sugar in order to reassure customers that the ingredient is safe.
The business model
In the meantime, the venture capital money will help the company establish DouxMatok such that it can be an equal partner and provide funding for the scale up and support the production before the company starts talking about more strategic investments, added VP business development Liat Cinamon.
“We’re now engaged in advanced discussions with sugar companies to partner with them and collaborate through the difference scale up stages. The first phase will involve a semi-industrial facility together with a partner that would allow us to support our initial commitments to food companies, and this would be of the magnitude of around 1,000-tons-a-year production.
“In the mid- to long-term, we’d look to have multiple partnerships, but in the next 18 months, we’re looking at one [facility] in Europe and one in the United States.”
While DouxMatok originally worked with silica nanoparticles, the company is now using larger silica particles “mostly in the range of 1-5 microns,” says chief technology officer Dr Alejandro Marabi, although “we sometimes use 20-micron size agglomerates.”
He added: “We do not use nano silica at all. We are always above the nano range as defined in some regulations. This was confirmed by several particle size distribution analyses.”
From an application perspective, DouxMatok has had particular success in chocolate – the “killer application,” baked goods, dairy, and cereal applications, with trained sensory panel data showing that sweet whipped cream with a 30% sugar reduction thanks to DouxMatok was perceived as being equally sweet, while the flavor profile was near identical.
Beverages are among the most challenging applications because some of the bonds between the silica and the sucrose can be broken in a solution, although progress has been made on this front, said Baniel.
As less sugar is required to deliver the same sweetness, formulators will typically have to add some bulking agents from fibers to erythritol in applications where bulk is needed, such as bakery, although in some cases, such as dairy, other components in the recipe can simply be used in slightly higher amounts, says Baniel, who has struck a series of joint development agreements with leading food manufacturers.
“Our applications lab will be as big as our chemistry lab. We’ve got a team of chefs and food technologists working with recipes from our partners. We’re getting requests to work in every kind of product area so we have tailored solutions that work for multiple applications.”
When it comes to branding, some CPG partners may choose to promote the DouxMatok brand on their products, while others will likely prefer a more 'stealth reduction' approach, whereby they can simply reduce the sugar grams on pack without actively flagging up that they have used DouxMatok’s enhanced sugar, said Cinamon.
“I think we’ll see a lot of ‘silent launches,’ but our long-term vision is for consumers to associate DouxMatok with healthier sugar.”
Read more about DouxMatok HERE.
*Gil Horsky is global innovation lead at Mondelez International
“The potential of DouxMatok’s technology is immense. Having been tested independently by 3rd party evaluators, as well as by major food manufacturers, the company has proven its ability to achieve desired sweetness level with significantly reduced sugar content.”
Ittai Harel, Managing General Partner, Pitango