Innovation to ‘change the world market for natural sweeteners’: c-LEcta develops enzyme process

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

A new treatment to expand production of Reb M stevia could shake-up the natural sweeteners market ©iStock
A new treatment to expand production of Reb M stevia could shake-up the natural sweeteners market ©iStock
German biotech company e-LEcta reveals that a “successful cooperation” with an unnamed sweetener supplier has enabled it to expand production of a zero-calorie, plant-based sweetener in a move that it said could "change the world market for natural sweeteners".

The company, which focuses on enzymes engineering and applications for industries like pharma and food, revealed it has used its expertise to expand production of a plant-based sweetener, making it suitable for large-scale use by beverage manufacturers.

e-LEcta declined to reveal details of the innovation but did say it has developed a process based on enzymatic treatment of precursors of these unidentified plant-based sweeteners. This new enzymatic treatment now makes it possible to efficiently convert the precursors into a better tasting sweetener.

The group added that the plant-based origin and safety of these sweeteners in combination with their “very sugar-like taste​” make them suitable for large scale use in low- and zero-calorie beverages and foods like soft drinks or diet products.

c-LEcta CEO Dr Marc Struhalla commented: "Our highly effective enzyme process helps provide the food and beverage industry with greater supply of great-tasting, plant-based sweeteners. That increased supply helps enable production of zero-calorie soft drinks sweetened 100% with plant-based sweeteners.

“The enzyme technology made in Germany has been incorporated at commercial scale and has the potential to enable our partner to decisively change the world market for natural sweeteners."

Is stevia the secret ingredient?

These details point to the likelihood that the plant-based sweetener in question is derived from the stevia leaf.

Stevia is comprised of various different sweetener molecules. Reb M is the most desirable for F&B manufacturers because it offers the most sugar-like taste. However, Reb M only occurs naturally in the stevia plant in small quantities. This has made supply an issue, pushed up pricing and inhibited industry uptake.

Commenting on the development, Struhalla stressed that the group has already expanded its enzyme production capabilities. “Together with our partner we will be able to provide the required quantities for large-scale use of the sweetener in the food and beverage industry. The commercialisation harbours the potential to prospectively take our sales to a new level and expands our existing product portfolio."

Could PureCircle be the mystery partner?

As to the unnamed partner, stevia supplier PureCircle seems a likely candidate.

Earlier this year, PureCircle revealed it is expanding its production of Reb M, with the intention of doubling its production capacity over the next three years. The company said it has now reached production volumes sufficient to sweeten 500m cases of carbonated soft drinks, with the intention to increase this to 1bn by 2021.

In a bid to appeal to industry, PureCircle also predicted that with increased volumes the price of Reb M would come down to a point where it is equivalent with other sweeteners and sugar.

Joining the dots 

PureCircle works with soft drinks giant Coca Cola, which launched its first Coke product only sweetened with stevia in New Zealand earlier this year. Given the quantity of stevia required for a launch on that scale, this certainly points to confidence in stevia's supply pipeline. 

PureCircle CEO Maga Malsagov was coy over whether the group is working in partnership with c-LEcta, explaining that PureCircle does not comment on “other companies announcements”.

However, he told FoodNavigator the “most important thing to takeaway”​ is how PureCircle is “rapidly expanding availability of the best tasting stevia sweeteners, like Reb M”.

Malsagov said this is being achieved in two ways: “The first is through the significant increase in planting of our proprietary Starleaf stevia which contains more Reb M. PureCircle also takes purified stevia leaf extract with low Reb M content and by adding an enzyme, the maturation to Reb M is completed, just as the leaf does naturally. Enzymes play a similar role in products ranging from baby food to cheese and other dairy products to chocolate.”

He stressed that all PureCircle’s Reb M is GMO-free and again added that the group is successfully bringing the price of Reb M down for food and beverage manufacturers.

“Depending on amounts purchased and various terms of purchase, companies buying Reb M from PureCircle will find the cost of using it to sweeten a beverage or food equivalent to their cost of using sugar to achieve the same level of sweetening.”

Research and innovation is key to the group’s ability to deliver high quality and affordable sweeteners on an industrial scale, Malsagov concluded. “PureCircle’s stevia-related intellectual property — including multiple patents and pending patents, trade secrets and know-how — reflect the strength and depth of our R&D and the importance of R&D to our success.”

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