Approval from the food authority - Food Standards Australia New Zealand - for the prebiotic sweetener marketed and produced under the brand name Gaio tagatose, stated that there were 'no daily intake limitations' for use, opening the way for unlimited use of the novel food in formulations such as low-fat frozen dairy desserts, diet soft confectionery, icings and frostings, as well as meal replacements.
"I am hopeful that the fact that no conditions were placed on usage of tagatose will have a favourable impact on the volume of sweetener used in these countries," said Thomas W. Gantt, CEO of US firm Spherix that invented the sweetener and holds the patent.
Gaio tagatose is produced from milk sugar lactose. In 1996 Denmark's MD Foods (subsequently taken over by Arla Foods) acquired the rights to this low calorie sweetener with a prebiotic effect - it stimulates the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system - for use in foodstuffs. Today the product is manufactured and sold as Gaio tagatose for food and beverage uses under licence by Arla Foods Ingredients.
In October last year the European Commission gave the thumbs up to a 50/50 joint venture - called Sweetgredients - between Arla Foods Ingredients and German sugar giant Nordzucker, to bring tagatose to the marketplace.
The clearance came just a few months after the two companies christened their first tagatose plant for production of this full-bulk sweetener in Germany on the site of Nordzucker's sugar plant near Hanover. Both companies have high hopes for the product, which looks and tastes like sugar but contains only about a third of the calories.
"Our first priority right now is to achieve successful commercial production of something that has never been produced before," said Mads Vigh, commercial director at Arla Foods Ingredients, in June 2003. "With Gaio tagatose in production, we hope to confirm the market potential we believe exists," he added.
A key area for growth is on the back of the current consumer trend - notably in the US but also gaining ground in the UK and Australia - to cut carbohydrates from the diet.
Taken together with the FSANZ approval, a recent study by Sydney university's Glycaemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS) is a step towards fulfilling the potential.
Dieters, particularly in Australia, are increasingly using the 'glycemic index' (GI) as a form of carbohydrate control. The GI is a numerical system of measuring how fast a food or ingredient triggers a rise in circulating blood glucose; the higher the GI, the greater the blood sugar response. A low GI food will cause a small rise in blood sugar levels, whereas a higher GI food may trigger a large increase.
According to Spherix, the study at Sydney University found that, compared to glucose, which had glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of 100 per cent, Gaio tagatose produced very low glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of only 3 per cent.
"These results, well below that of competing sweeteners, may make foods and beverages with tagatose even more attractive to a weight-conscious public that increasingly embraces lowering carbohydrates to lose weight," said Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, executive officer for science at Spherix.