CEO Christian Kopfli told FoodNavigator-USA: “Much to our delight, last year we made what I think is a groundbreaking discovery of a novel natural sweetener that is 50-100 times sweeter than sugar. I can’t say any more at this stage but it’s something that is found and widely consumed in ingredients you buy at your local grocery store every day.
“What made everybody very excited was that it tasted incredibly similar to sugar, it has a wonderful clean taste, and it’s very sugar-like both in its taste modality and also in its temporal profile. We’ve done consumer tests and it doesn’t linger in the same way that stevia does.”
Asked when it might be commercially available, he said: “We are working very very hard on the regulatory front and the production front to get this to market. We can’t give any guarantees but we’re aiming for some time in 2019.”
Natural fermentation process
So how might the sweetener be produced at scale?
“We’re still looking at this but think it will be a natural fermentation process, which will be the most effective to produce it at scale," he said. "But we will be very transparent about the process we use.”
The regulatory process
Asked whether the sweetener would require a food additive petition (as we have seen for sweeteners such as neotame or aspartame), or a GRAS determination (as we’ve seen for stevia and monk fruit), he said: “Both regulatory pathways are open to us.”
Natural flavors: We have something that other companies don’t have
Right now, however, the FlavorHealth portfolio is focused primarily on natural products that deliver industry-leading sweet and salty taste enhancements and bitter balancing, said Kopfli, who co-founded FlavorHealth’s parent company – life sciences firm Chromocell - in 2002, and launched FlavorHealth as a standalone brand at the IFT show in 2016.
And this means sugar reductions of 30-50%; sodium reductions of 30-60% and bitterness reduction of 40-60%, the kind of numbers that have made multinational CPG brands sit up and pay attention, says Kopfli, who has also entered into collaborations with Nestle and Coca-Cola (“they approached us,” he notes).
“Very clearly we have something that other companies don’t have. The reality is that there are a lot of companies out there offering solutions for sugar and sodium reduction and bitter balancing, but we can deliver on all three fronts: Our products are natural, efficacious and they have no off tastes."
We can block the bitterness, reduce the linger, and enhance the sweetness of stevia
On the sweet enhancement front, he said, “What’s interesting is that our sweet enhancers work on caloric sugars such as high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar, and on [non-nutritive] sweeteners such as monk fruit and stevia, particularly Reb M [one of the best-tasting, but most scarce, steviol glycosides]. We can enable companies to reduce Reb M by 50% [and still achieve the same sweetness].
“We can also block the bitterness and reduce the linger of stevia, which is quite unusual in the industry, and we can combine that with the sweet taste enhancement to improve the overall taste profile of stevia, so it’s sweeter, less bitter, and doesn’t linger.”
FlavorHealth sweet options can intensify the sweet taste of non-caloric and caloric sweeteners in beverages, syrups, yogurts, dressings, and snacks, enabling sugar reductions of 30-50%. They also work well in combination with FlavorHealth bitter balancing ingredients in stevia-sweetened beverages, by enhancing sweetness and reducing bitterness.
FlavorHealth salty options can be used in prepared meals, beverages, soups, sauces, baked goods, and snacks to reduce sodium by 30-60%. In sensory testing, consumers preferred a 40% reduced sodium cheese sauce made with the FlavorHealth Salty natural flavor solution over the control, says Kopfli.
FlavorHealth bitter balance products can reduce bitterness associated with astringent tannins, caffeine, plant-based proteins, high potency sweeteners, vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and potassium, by 40-60%.
Like many flavor companies, New Jersey-based FlavorHealth uses
high-throughput screening, whereby it fire thousands of substances at taste and aroma receptors that mimic human receptors in the mouth and nose to see which ones we might perceive as sweet, or bitter, for example.
If receptors are ‘activated’ – like a key fitting into a lock - they initiate signals to the brain: a process that the lab equipment effectively replicates.
However, FlavorHealth is unusual in that it has identified naturally occurring cells that have the ability to produce unmodified, full-length taste and odorant receptors “as they exist in human taste or olfactory cells,” claims Kopfli.
The receptors are native (not tagged or chemically modified or truncated), and when tested with known tastants, the functional response of these native taste cell-based assays accurately mimics the corresponding reported human sensory data, claims CEO Christian Kopfli (pictured).
“Where we have a real competitive advantage is that we can select from millions of taste receptor cells to identify the ones that are highly sensitive and most suitable for high throughput screening, whereas other companies maybe select from a pool of tens or maybe hundreds.
“So our screening is exceptionally accurate; which means that the compounds we identify through this process have a far higher likelihood to be active on the human tongue, for example. We then conduct a detailed toxicology review and run promising compounds by our trained [human] sensory panel [at sister company Gustatec] to validate them.”