Senomyx unveils 'natural' sweetener breakthrough
US biotech firm, Senomyx has identified a new zero-calorie, high-potency sweetening compound found in trace levels in monk fruit, which it plans to produce on a commercial scale via fermentation.
The sweetener, which would be described on food labels as 'siratose,' is claimed to be far superior to commercially available monk fruit extracts, and more potent, better-tasting, more soluble, and more stable in low PH beverages such as carbonated soft drinks, than Reb-A (the best-known steviol glycoside).
San Diego-based Senomyx, which uses proprietary taste receptor-based technologies to develop novel flavour ingredients, identified the sweetener (“a miniscule component of Luo Han Guo, which is the fruit of the Siraitia grosvenorii plant") after screening more than three million samples and identifying “nearly 300 sweeteners from 35 distinct families of sweeteners found in nature".
While monk fruit extracts are already widely used in foods, CEO John Poyhonen says, "Siratose has demonstrated potency and overall taste quality superior to existing monk fruit sweeteners and superior to over 50 other minor sweetener components found in both monk fruit and the monk fruit plant that we have evaluated...
"It's never been described in the literature and it's different than all of the monk fruit sweeteners that are on the market today. The primary sweetener in all the commercially available monk fruit extracts on the market is Mogroside V, which is very different than siratose."
In a statement accompanying the firm’s Q4 results, Poyhonen said: "Senomyx is introducing our new natural, zero-calorie sweetener under the common or usual name of siratose.
"This is not the brand name, but the name you would see on an ingredient list within the nutrition facts information panel on a packaged food or beverage product. Siratose comprises less than 1% of Luo Han Guo and could not have been discovered using traditional human taste testing."
But can siratose be cost-effectively manufactured on a commercial scale from the natural source (eg the fruit)?
Not according to Poyhonen, who says Senomyx plans to manufacture it at scale via a fermentation process, but has not provided details of the inputs.
One example of a fermentation process that might be comparable is the approach employed by Cargill and Evolva to make the better-tasting steviol glycosides Reb D+M (under the 'EverSweet ' brand) by using a genetically engineered baker's yeast to convert a feedstock (eg. sugar or corn) into the desired glycosides.
While fermentation is considered to be a 'natural' process for producing flavours, for example, it is not clear whether consumers or plaintiff's attorneys would consider sweeteners produced this way to be as 'natural' as those derived directly from the stevia leaf or monk fruit.
Goal to achieve a proof of concept of the fermentation strain development by the first half of 2018
As for the commercialisation strategy for siratose, Poyhonen said: “Pursuing new non-exclusive collaborative relationships for our natural sweet taste program that maximise the commercial potential and provide our collaborators with access to siratose and future natural product discoveries remains a top priority.
“Several potential partners have already tasted siratose and the feedback has been outstanding. We have built a pipeline of excellent collaboration candidates and we remain confident in our ability to begin adding collaborators to our syndicate during 2017.”
So how big a deal is this in the world of sweeteners?
Alex Woo, PhD chief executive at consultancy W2O Food Innovation and an expert on high potency sweeteners, told FoodNavigator-USA that there were some potentially exciting sustainability benefits from producing food ingredients via fermentation rather than devoting vast swathes of agricultural land to growing plants that contain only trace levels of the compounds you are interested in.
However, siratose could hit some roadblocks, he predicted.
For a start, the name 'siratose' on a product label is not very consumer-friendly, he observed: "[If it is produced via] fermentation or enzymology, siratose is not extracted, so cannot be called 'monk fruit extract'.
"This parallels the label of 'stevia extract' for farm-based stevia, vs 'Rebaudioside M' for fermentation-based stevia in the US. As Senomyx has already concluded, its label after it clears FDA GRAS will most likely be 'siratose.'
"Siratose sounds to me, a food scientist, like the bulk sweeteners tagatose, allulose, and ribose. But to consumers, it sounds like a 'chemical'."
Adds Kantha Shelke, PhD, principal at Chicago-based food science and research firm Corvus Blue, "Siratose is the name of a compound that exists in nature and has been found to occur naturally in lo han guo that has been used as a sweetener for centuries. It is not a manmade compound like sucralose or aspartame.
"For the chemophobes who believe that siratose may be too 'chemical sounding' on a food label, I say it is time to educate our consumers that such 'chemical sounding ingredients’ have a potential to be a solution to the diabetes and obesity epidemics ailing our world.
"It is time people learned that all foods are made up of chemicals and also learned to understand about what’s good for them instead of being afraid of them."