Sweegen to launch high intensity sweetener brazzein in 2022

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Brazzein is 500-2,000 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar). Picture credit: GettyImages-CherriesJD
Brazzein is 500-2,000 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar). Picture credit: GettyImages-CherriesJD

Related tags: Sweegen, brazzein, Conagen

Sweegen will expand its high-intensity sweeteners portfolio early next year with the addition of brazzein, an ultra-sweet tasting protein found in small quantities in the fruit of a West African plant called oubli, that can be produced on a commercial scale via microbial fermentation.

The zero-calorie, heat-stable sweetener has been developed in collaboration with Sweegen's partner Conagen, which has scaled it to commercial production.

Brazzein is 500 to 2,000 times sweeter than regular sugar, has “little to no bitter aftertaste, and helps to reduce sweet linger, reducing taste modulation challenges in the natural sweetener space​,” according to Sweegen.

It is stable in a wide range of pH conditions, retains its qualities after pasteurization, and is readily soluble, making it ideal for sugar reduction across a spectrum of food and beverage applications, said Conagen's VP of innovation, Dr Casey Lippmeier.

“Brazzein is the first product generated from our new peptide platform, which fits well into our existing world-scale, precision fermentation infrastructure. Peptides and small proteins like brazzein can be very difficult to make economically.  However, now that we have successfully scaled this peptide, we expect more sustainable, novel peptide ingredients will rapidly follow.”

The company is putting together a GRAS determination for the sweetener, which will be listed on food labels as 'brazzein,' Lippmeier told FoodNavigator-USA: "Peptides made by fermentation have traditionally been difficult because the host tends to eat them faster than they can be made.  We make our brazzein by fermentation with a host ​[the company is not disclosing which microbial host it is using at this stage] that obviates this problem."

Beyond stevia and monk fruit

While natural high intensity sweeteners stevia and monk fruit have improved significantly in recent years as firms have homed in on the more sugar-like (but also more scarce) steviol glycosides such as Reb M, formulators are always looking for other sweeteners that are 'found in nature.'

Proteins such as brazzein (from the oubli berry), miraculin (from the ‘miracle berry’ or Synsepalum dulcificum​​), and curculin (from the fruit of Curculigo latifolia​​) can deliver a more sugar-like sweetness profile, but have not been commercialized (until now) as it’s not economically viable to produce meaningful quantities by extracting them from fruit.

Conagen – which deploys synthetic biology to ‘program’ microbes to express proteins and other components found in plants by using DNA sequences from the plants in question – is one of several companies developing fermentation-based processes to produce these sweeteners via microbial fermentation.

California-based Joywell Foods​ ​has recently submitted a GRAS notice to the FDA​ ​for Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), in pulp, powder, or protein forms; while Roquette has teamed up with Brain Biotech AG​ to develop brazzein sweeteners via microbial fermentation.

According to Lippmeier, Sweegen expects to be first to market with brazzein, however: "We expect to bring brazzein to market before other companies. Sweegen successfully overcame the challenge of scaling brazzein, as it is difficult to make economically."

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