Savanna Ingredients is a German start-up that came out of the Innovation Centre of the sugar producer Pfeifer & Langen. For the past three years, the group has been working on a project to develop large-scale production of a zero calorie natural sugar, allulose.
“Natural sugar without calories occurs in nature – but only in very small quantities,” Savanna’s head of innovation and managing director Dr Timo Koch explained. “Savanna develops so-called functional carbohydrates: new types of sugar with specific characteristics. For three years we are working on our allulose process.”
Alongside its work in calorie-free sugar, Savanna has developed is cellobiose, an ingredient that can be used to replace lactose. Also a natural sugar, celloboise contains half the calories of conventional sugar.
The group’s efforts on allulose have resulted in a major breakthrough – a method of producing allulose at scale. “We have developed a method for producing real sugar without calories from sugar beets on a large scale – using enzymes derived from nature. So we have developed an optimized synthesis process with low environmental impact and low energy consuming downstream process,” Dr Koch told FoodNavigator.
Allulose contains 0.2 kcals per gramme. Dr Koch noted that erythrit is a sugar alcohol that also contains 0.2 kcals a gramme and can make zero-calorie claims. He is therefore confident the group will be able to make the claim “real sugar without calories” on its labelling.
Allulose is a low calorie sugar that is found in small quantities in jackfruits, figs, raisins and wheat and is naturally present in foods including maple syrup and brown sugar.
It has similar physical characteristics as a typical monosaccharide. Allulose offers the taste and texture of sugar but with a fraction of the calories.
Existing suppliers include Tate & Lyle, Anderson Global Group and Astraea.
Next steps: compliance and capacity
Savanna found out yesterday (27 June) that the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture is committing funding to its research within the framework of the national reduction strategy for fat, salt and sugar. The group also benefits from the support of Pfeifer & Langen alongside other companies and universities, RWTH Aachen, Hochschule Ostwestfalen-Lippe, who are also involved.
The group is now gearing up to apply for regulatory approval at a European level – a process that is expected to take two years - while simultaneously investing in its manufacturing capabilities, Dr Koch said.
“We will soon apply for its approval as a foodstuff in Europe. Production capacities for the functional carbohydrates are currently being expanded at our site in Elsdorf, near Cologne (North-Rhine Westfalia).”
The group has already received “positive feedback” from customers that have tested allulose. “They say, its taste and functional characteristics are extremely close to classical sugar (from sugar beet / cane) and make allulose suitable for many different applications like beverage, bakery.”
While the group continues to develop other new functional sugars, it is simultaneously testing applications for allulose. “We are expanding our production site in terms of new functional sugars. And our application development is testing the characteristics in all important areas, such as soft drinks, baked goods, fruit preparation and milk products.”
Dr Koch is aware of the potential this breakthrough offers. “We are convinced allulose has an enormous potential for the nutrition of millions of people.”