The sweetener was developed by The NutraSweet Company in the US and is a derivative of aspartame. It is said to be around 8000 times sweeter than sugar and 30 to 60 times sweeter than aspartame (depending on the application), but to have a sugar-like taste and no calories.
The approval, which was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 23 December as an amendment to directive 94/35/EC, has been a long time coming.
The European Food Safety Authority was first asked to provide a safety opinion on it in 2003; its opinion, that neotame “is not carcinogenic, genotoxic or associated with any reproductive/developmental toxicity", was published in September 2007.
Given that neotame is considerable sweeter than aspartame, NutraSweet CEO Craig Petray said it will allow food manufacturers to create more cost effective sweetener formulations. Since less needs to used – 1/30th to 1/60th the amount of aspartame – smaller quantities will be shipped and stored, which could contribute to savings in logistics too.
Billed as a new-generation sweetener, neotame is said to have a number of other advantages over aspartame, which remains NutraSweet’s flagship sweetener. It has better stability in high temperatures and high pH conditions, and is more stable to products like yoghurt and bakery goods.
It can be used to replace up to 33 per cent of the sucrose in a formulation without impacting a product’s taste, and can also be blended with a number of other sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, cyclamate, sucralose and saccharin.
The newly approved sweetener could also find uses in flavour masking and enhancement. It is said to mask bitter or harsh notes, such as may be present when potassium choloride is used in salt substitutes, for example, or the beany taste of soy.
On the other hand, flavours like mint, vanilla and citrus can be enhanced in some applications.
Neotame has been assigned the E-number E961. The Commission saw no reason to hold up neotame’s marketing and use in the bloc any longer, saying it may be marketed in Europe from the date of the new directive’s entry into force – that is, 12 January 2010, 20 days after its publication.
Brenntag Group has been assigned the distribution rights for all of Europe, with the exception of Spain and Portugal where it will be distributed by Disproquima.
The EU comes relatively late to the new sweetener, as it has been permitted for use in the US since 2002 and has also been given the green light by JECFA (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives).
The directive approving neotame’s use in the EU, including maximum levels in various applications, is available online here.