Ocean Spray taps Amai’s ‘hyper-sweet’ protein to cut 40% sugar from cranberry juice

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages/Dmitrii Ivanov
Pic: GettyImages/Dmitrii Ivanov

Related tags sugar reduction The Kitchen Ocean spray Cranberry juice

Developer of ‘hyper-sweet designer proteins’, Amai Proteins, is teeing up with Ocean Spray to create a reduced sugar cranberry juice product – without compromising its ‘bold’ taste.

According to the partnership, US-headquartered Ocean Spray will leverage the Israeli start-up’s ‘ground-breaking’ designer protein research to cut sugar by around 40%.

Amai’s proteins are 100% protein, which Ocean Spray says will bring a ‘healthy, tasty sweetening solution’ to its flagship product. In doing so, the US firm will be able to “offer consumers more ways to incorporate the cranberry into a healthier lifestyle”.

Hyper-sweet, designer protein tech

Amai’s sugar reduction technology is based on a hyper-sweet protein it claims is not only ‘thousands of times’ sweeter than sugar, but is tasty, scalable, and sustainable.

The start-up uses Agile Integrative Computational Protein Design (AI-CPD) to design proteins that are 70-100% identical to those found in nature, yet better suited to food production.

Pic: Ocean Spray

In an interview​ with FoodNavigator last year, CEO and founder Dr Ilan Samish explained how he takes some amino acid chains from the protein, and ‘mix and matches’ them to create a new protein. “It is 100% protein, and still 20 amino acids, but it’s a new sequence.”

These proteins are then expressed in yeast, through fermentation. Amai harvests a white powder, which Dr Samish said is “so potent, a teaspoon of our protein is like 50kg of sugar”. ​However, the resulting ingredient contains zero calories, zero glycaemic index, and is ingested as proteins.

This is good news for our microbiome, he told this publication. Unlike Amai’s ‘designer proteins’, sugars – whether artificial or natural – are small molecules. “Small molecules affect our liver, kidney, and our microbiome,” ​he explained. “[Our] proteins bind to the sweet receptors like proteins [thus triggering the sensation of sweet taste] and are ingested like proteins.”

Regulatory challenges

Ocean Spray and Amai have signed Joint Development Agreements to develop protein-sweetened Ocean Spray products. “We are working closely together with the food technology teams on both sides of the ocean,” ​said Dr Samish, who added that the ‘synergy’ with Ocean Spray’s R&D team is beneficial to the project.

“In an open manner, we learn what are the needs and focus on bringing our jointly developed product to the market.”

Concerning commercialisation challenges, Amai’s CEO revealed work is underway with the relevant authorities to obtain regulatory clearance.

“Any product that is produced by precision fermentation must undergo regulatory clearance to show, for example, that it is pure from contaminants and adheres with the requirements of food-grade ingredients,” ​he explained.

sugar reduction AndreyPopov
Dmitrii Ivanovic: GettyImages/AndreyPopov

FMCG partnerships

The companies have agreed to continue their partnership to cut sugar from additional products in Ocean Spray’s portfolio. Ocean Spray also sells flavoured cranberry juices, a range of sauces - including Smooth Cranberry and Mint Sauce - as well as cordial and sparkling cranberry beverages.

This, Ocean Spray says, is a ‘significant milestone’ for the beverage industry. “Many other companies are working to remove sugar and maintain taste, but tend to fall short on flavour.”

Dr Samish said that for Amai’s part, the start-up has ‘several’ partnerships on the go. Amai was established as a portfolio company of The Kitchen Hub incubator which is owned by the Strauss Group.

As Strauss has business relationships with PepsiCo and Danone, who are also part of The Kitchen Hub’s advisory board, Amai is partnering with these companies as well, he revealed. “Beyond this, I must wait for each partner to decide if and what to disclose as to our partnerships.”

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