In fact, some varieties, like those created by Sugarlogix through yeast fermentation, are actually good for people, according to the company’s co-founder and CEO Kulika Chomvong.
“When people hear the word sugar, they typically think of it as table sugar,” which is sweet and increasingly an ingredient consumers want to avoid, she said. But, she added, “there actually are multiple varieties of sugar and some of them are not sweet” and do not add to the caloric total of a food or beverage but rather offer functional benefits – such as feeding good gut bacteria and supporting a healthy microbiome.
“We are working on a type of sugar that is a prebiotic and feeds the good bacteria. So, it doesn’t give our bodies major calories and it doesn’t give the taste of sweetness, it just offers functional benefit,” Chomvong said.
In particular, she said, the company currently is focused on making human milk oligosaccharides, which are found in human breast milk as a source of prebiotics to foster healthy guts, but which are not found in significant quantities elsewhere.
In addition to feeding probiotics for healthy digestive systems, HMOs also have microbial properties, which means “they can attack the bad pathogens that would have caused infection in our bodies,” Chomvong said.
“This is the type of sugar we are creating – a healthy kind,” she added.
Three natural uses for Sugarlogix’s fermented HMO
Sugarlogix sees the ingredient as a natural fit for infant formulas and early life nutrition products, many of which today using a blend of fructo- and galacto oligosaccharides to mimic HMO, Chomvong said.
She also sees the ingredient as a useful complement to probiotic supplements or in functional beverages, which she says consumers are more willing to experiment with than other formats such as baked goods. However, she was quick to add that Sugarlogix’s HMOs can with stand high heat for long duration and are shelf stable – making them ideal for many applications.
Even though manufacturing of the ingredient has not yet begun, the idea and technology behind Sugarlogix helped it land the People’s Choice Award at Rabobank’s recent FoodBytes! pitch slam in Austin, Texas. Chomvong said she hoped the attention from the award as well as the networking opportunity at FoodBytes! will help the company fund its ongoing seed round to help get manufacturing off the ground.
A bright future hinges on funding
Sugarlogix still may be in the early stages, but Chomvong and her colleagues have big dreams that expand beyond making just HMOs.
Chomvong explained the she and her co-founder initially thought of the company as way to create low-calories sweeteners. And it hasn’t let go of the potential to create a healthy sugar that offers both functional benefits and the sweet taste consumers today crave.
“We see ourselves as a biotech driven company that can sustainably provide a diversity of products, and we like to focus on sugar because that is close to our expertise and because there are 180 different varieties of poly oligosaccharides.” Chomvong said. “We want to provide the top ten … and not just stop at one.”
To succeed, Chomvong said the company will need capital and expertise, both of which Chomvong is hoping to find with an investor soon.
“We are in conversations with several investors, the majority of which we would like have at our table as a source not just for cash but for providing expertise and partnership,” she said.