Tosla CEO: Sugar breakthrough would be sweet in face of ‘scepticism and doubt’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©Tosla
©Tosla

Related tags: Sugar

Tosla’s success in passing the first phase of the EU’s Horizon 2020 SME Instruments program sends out a message to the sweetener industry, who in the past have expressed reservations to its approach to ‘reinventing sugar’.

Tosla has developed a sucrose sugar that increases the sweet taste by over 40% coupled with an innovative plug-n-play sugar manufacturing technology. However, the Slovenian start-up—now recipients of a €50,000 grant—spoke of the lukewarm response received to its latest innovation.

During the first Phase of our project (study preparation) we have been in touch with various food industry companies. The response has been, as expected, a bit conservative,”​ said Tosla’s CEO Primož Artač.

“It was important for us to understand their views on the sugar-reduction challenge. Let us say that there was some interest and a lot of skepticism.

“We are a small company and most food companies doubt that we can succeed. This is the reason we are mainly developing the whole process on our own. We intend to select some potential partners in the coming months, before the second phase of SME instruments.”

Natural sugar replacement woes

The food industry continues to seek a natural replacement for sugar in food, with the alternatives currently available having faced a number of drawbacks.

Stevia, of course, is proving suitable as a natural source for sweetness but its functional properties that add texture, structure and moisture control aren’t a patch on sugar. Its taste also appears to differ when added to various soft drinks.

Monk fruit is a preferred source for Chinese supplier Layn and Biovittoria Ltd, with the latter's products now distributed by Tate & Lyle. The ingredient benefits from a zero calorie count and negligible impact on blood sugar levels. But its advantages are countered by an unpleasant aftertaste, relative expense and difficulty in growing the crop.

Other sugar alternatives include thaumatin, which has a favourable profile and a long lasting sweetness perception. However, this is offset by a liquorice aftertaste similar to stevia at high concentrations. 

The sucrose riddle

Given the issues facing sugar alternatives, Artač’s approach seems all the more attractive. Tosla's ingredient innovation carries a number of other benefits, the chief executive continued. 

Sugar is not merely a sweetener,”​ he explained. “It has structural properties that other sweeteners cannot replicate.

“The challenge is to keep sugar’s structural characteristics while increasing its sweetness. This innovation will allow the food industry to greatly reduce the sugar content in all sweet products, making them healthier for consumers.”

This raises issues in itself since sucrose is a non-reducing sugar thus has no free aldehyde or keto group.

Additionally, its anomeric carbon is not free and can’t easily open up its structure to react with other molecules.

Details into Tosla’s method remains thin on the ground with Artač only revealing a method that involves “a mix of natural and physical transformation of the sugar structure”.

“We first conducted some lab trials, then pilot plant ones. The results we obtained in both cases matched our expectations. We are now working on the industrialisation of our process.”

The coming six months will be crucial for the SLADCORE project. Artač explained that the next step involves the production of samples, which will be tested by a few selected partner companies.

“This will give us the much-needed information about our product and, even more importantly, its potential application within the industry,”​ he said.

“We will in parallel work on the industrialisation of our proprietary process, identify possible bottlenecks in the technology, and test various technological solutions to obtain the best possible yields.”

Artač added that with all things being well the product would be available commercially at the end of 2019.

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