Stevia extracts – without agriculture? Evolva and Cargill join forces on fermentation-derived extracts

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Evolva says it can produce steviol glycosides without extracting them from plants
Evolva says it can produce steviol glycosides without extracting them from plants

Related tags: Steviol glycosides, Stevia

Swiss firm Evolva Holding has partnered with Cargill to develop and commercialise stevia extracts derived from a fermentation process, rather than through traditional extraction from the stevia plant.

Evolva has been working on the technology for the past several years, to produce commercially viable sweeteners that are molecularly identical to stevia extracts, but without relying on the cultivation, processing and refining of stevia plants.

It claims that the fermentation process will allow it to select and produce specific steviol glycosides – the components responsible for stevia’s sweet taste. This means it could produce different, lower cost, and perhaps better-tasting, steviol glycosides in quantities that are currently not commercially viable because of their low concentration in the stevia leaf.

Cargill and Evolva claimed on Wednesday that the collaboration laid the foundation for the ‘next evolution’ in the stevia industry.

Cargill brings its manufacturing and commercial expertise to the deal, including in stevia sweeteners and other bulk sweeteners, and has agreed to invest CHF 5m (about US$5.3m or €4m) in Evolva.

Evolva could receive up to US$7.5m (€5.75m) in milestone payments associated with the deal and has the right to a 45% stake in the final business. If it decides not to take this option, it would receive royalties on the global sales of the steviol glycosides – in the range of mid-single digit to low double-digit percentages, the companies said.

Evolva says its process adapts fermentation technology to produce steviol glycosides through low-cost, sustainable carbohydrate feedstocks that can be sourced “virtually anywhere on the planet”.

The company already uses fermentation to produce other ingredients, including vanillin, and it has been working with International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) for the past two years to scale up its yeast-based fermentation production method for vanillin.

Speaking with FoodNavigator about its fermentation production of steviol glycosides in early 2011, Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith said that he envisaged the plant extracts would have EU regulatory approval by the time its products were ready to market. He was right; steviol glycosides were approved for use in foods and beverages in the European Union in November that year.

From a regulatory standpoint, this means the company will only have to prove substantial equivalence to bring its sweetness components to market.

Goldsmith added that Cargill was fundamentally changing the global sweetener category with its stevia-based sweeteners.

“We view this collaboration as further evidence that industry has recognized that Evolva’s technology platform represents a uniquely powerful foundation for producing sustainable, next-generation, high-value health, nutrition, and wellness products,”​ he said.

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