IFT First: Bonumose gears up for commercial production of rare sugar tagatose this fall: ‘It really does stand apart in terms of its taste and its functionality’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

'We’ve worked in the alternative bulk sweetener space for nearly 30 years and tagatose really does stand apart in terms of its taste and its functionality...' Image credit: GettyImages-AndreyPopov
'We’ve worked in the alternative bulk sweetener space for nearly 30 years and tagatose really does stand apart in terms of its taste and its functionality...' Image credit: GettyImages-AndreyPopov

Related tags: IFT First, Ift, Bonumose, ASR Group, rare sugars, tagatose, allulose, Sweeteners

Bonumose – a Virginia-based startup with patented technology it claims could enable the mass market adoption of rare sugars which have exciting benefits but currently come with a hefty price tag – is gearing up to start commercial production of tagatose at a new plant in Virginia this fall, with allulose to follow.

The firm, which has backers including Hershey and sugar refiner ASR Group, is deploying a patented process starting with maltodextrin rather than lactose, that significantly increases yields​ of tagatose, a non-cariogenic, low-glycemic sweetener with 92% of the sweetness of sucrose, but only 38% of the calories (1.5cals/gram).

An attractive alternative to sucrose as it has bulk and sugar-like sweetness, with fewer calories and a negligible impact on blood sugar, tagatose - a naturally occurring monosaccharide found in fruits and dairy products - also has intriguing potential as a prebiotic, Bonumose CEO Ed Rogers told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT First show in Chicago this week.

Studies in humans and experimental models suggest that tagatose is fermented in the large intestine, where it increases levels of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus cassei,​ and stimulates the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate​, he claimed, while preliminary data from the University of Connecticut suggests tagatose may also inhibit the production of toxins by Clostridioides difficile​, a bacterium that causes an infection of the large intestine.

Tagatose and added sugar labeling: FDA decision ‘contradictory and illogical’

So what does the FDA’s recent refusal to exempt tagatose from added sugar labeling​ on food labels (three years after granting such a request for fellow rare sugar allulose) mean for Bonumose, which has blasted the agency’s decision as “contradictory andillogical”?

It was clearly a huge blow, said Jim Kappas, commercial director at ASR Group, who noted that interest in allulose immediately picked up after the FDA changed its labeling rules about the sweetener. However, it would not derail the company’s plans for tagatose:

“We’ve worked in the alternative bulk sweetener space for nearly 30 years and tagatose really does stand apart in terms of its taste and its functionality. It also has an edge over allulose, which can be taste limited at high use levels, and it has prebiotic effects.”

Tagatose-ASR-Group
Bonumose, which was founded in 2016, has attracted investment from confectionery giant Hershey and sugar refining giant ASR Group

‘We’re talking about a five-fold reduction in pricing at the get go, and with scale, yet another two or three times lower’

And Bonumose is offering a significant price reduction vs current suppliers of tagatose, he said: “We’re talking about a five-fold reduction in pricing at the get go, and with scale, yet another two or three times lower. Our major prospects are looking at it in mainstream products, not just in their sugar free lines, and it looks like that we're going to need more capacity right away. 

“Tagatose is more free-flowing and has lower hygroscopicity than allulose, so in panning applications like a coated chewing gum or panned candy, it has a distinct advantage. But over time, they will each find their own markets, and some companies may even want to use a combination of both.”

He added: “Tagatose has also shown efficacy in cereal, baked goods, ice cream, confectionery, and beverage, so it has very broad potential.”

As for allulose, he said: “Down the road we could have one line dedicated to allulose, another dedicated to tagatose, which could then be switched over as needed, and we’ve also got other products in our pipeline, some of which are sweeteners, and they all use the same feedstock, the same equipment. We could also campaign, perhaps on a monthly or quarterly basis.” 

D-allose​: ‘Sweeter than allulose but with essentially zero calories​’

Further down the road, Bonumose is also exploring commercializing D-allose, which is “sweeter than allulose but has essentially zero calories,” ​claimed Rogers.

“The only way to make it today is to make it from allulose at a very low yield. But our process, just like all of our other processes, goes from maltodextrin directly to the sweetener in a single pass enzymatic reaction at high yields, so we think allose has some opportunities. We’d have to do the full GRAS submission, so we’re not providing any timeline for that right now.”

He added: “Our priority right now is to get tagatose production up and running, and then accelerate the commercialization of allulose. It's probably a bit early to say how fast we can be there with allulose as until the FDA decision, we had anticipated running hard and only on tagatose in the short term, but that may be one of the adjustments we need to consider more seriously.”

Bonumose has already secured an FDA GRAS ‘no questions’ letter for tagatose, and plans to submit its GRAS determination for allulose shortly, he said.

Read more about Bonumose’s production methods HERE​.

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