Sweegen leverages precision fermentation to scale brazzein sweetener: ‘We’re exploring new food and beverage frontiers’

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Innovation in sugar reduction from Sweegen / Pic: iStock-Crédits maximkabb
Innovation in sugar reduction from Sweegen / Pic: iStock-Crédits maximkabb

Related tags: reformulation, sugar reduction, Sweetener

Sweegen is commercialising its new high-intensity sweetener brazzein. FoodNavigator hears from Shari Mahon, head of global innovation, about the innovation opportunities this new ingredient will unlock for food and beverage makers.

Starting this month, ingredient supplier Sweegen will begin commercialising its ‘newest advancement in sweetness’, brazzein, under its Ultratia brand. 

The launch places Sweegen at the forefront of innovative approaches to sugar reduction, head of global innovation Shari Mahon contended. “We’re exploring new food and beverage frontiers. We continue to pioneer the latest sugar alternatives and technologies to reimagine food and drink that truly delivers on the promise of wellness. The launch of Ultratia brazzein further demonstrates Sweegen as a thought leader in wellness ingredient technologies and innovations.”

The innovation will unlock new opportunities for food and beverage formulators working to create better-for-you and reduced sugar products, the company believes.

What is so special about Sweegen’s brazzein innovation?

Brazzein is a sweet-tasting protein extracted from the West African fruit of the climbing plant Oubli. It was first isolated by the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1994. However, building commercial scale has proven challenging. The ingredient is found sparingly in nature and to scale brazzein sustainably Sweegen is leveraging a proprietary precision fermentation process, a technology it says produces clean and sustainable ingredients. “Sweegen’s competitive advantage is our technology which enables us to scale brazzein,”​ Mahon told FoodNavigator. “Sweegen’s Ultratia brazzein is a sweet protein produced via a precision fermentation process.”

Brazzein is 500 to 2,000 times sweeter than regular sugar and low-calorie. Importantly, the company also describes it as ‘cost competitive’ with sugar. “We can produce and offer innovative sweetener systems at a competitive cost,”​ Mahon maintained.

These characteristics make it an ‘excellent alternative’ to not just sugar but also artificial sweeteners and ‘old generation’ nature-based sweeteners such as stevia rebaudioside A.

“Brazzein is sweeter than most nature-based sweeteners and has a different sweet profile, intensity and release. It is synergistic with other nature-based sweeteners. Brazzein’s synergistic effects and diversity allow us to provide the industry with unique sweetener systems to reduce or eliminate sugar and also replace artificial sweetener systems in a more cost-effective way,”​ Mahon told us.

Tackling the challenges of sugar reduction

Brazzein is a protein sweetener that promises little to no bitter aftertaste and helps reduce sweet linger, tackling the taste challenges that have historically been a problem in the natural sweetener space.

But a like-for-like replacement of sugar with a high intensity sweetener is unlikely to result in the desired product attributes. “Sugar plays a key role in food and beverages as a sweetener and for functionality in bulk and texture, mouthfeel, taste, and preservation. It’s also the base of the fermentation process in foods like yogurt, beer, and bread. When sugar is removed, it impacts all the above aspects and their interaction,”​ Mahon elaborated. “Therefore, replacing sugar with alternative sweeteners such as stevia or brazzein by itself is not enough because strictly replacing sugar without building back texture or replacing the natural masking abilities from sugar to cover off-notes can result in underperforming products.”

Sweegen’s portfolio of sugar reduction products and solutions takes these challenges into account when developing new formulations, the innovation leader continued. “Sweegen’s approach to sugar reduction has always been a creative building block approach. Our expertise in sugar reduction is based not only on our deep knowledge of our ingredients but also on the collaboration across our in-house product development and taste modulation experts. In formulating with brazzein, we will continue to work with our clients utilizing our creative building block approach to deliver great tasting, consumer preferred products.”

This means that Sweegen is able to offer food and beverage customers an expanded sugar reduction toolkit, the innovation expert continued. “With our expansive sugar reduction toolbox, brands can explore the best solutions for creating better-for-you options to update their products’ health and wellness profiles or create entirely new sweet innovations. We offer the most expansive toolbox for product developers to achieve consumer-winning products.”

Pursuing regulatory approvals

The pressure for mainstream food and beverage products to migrate to a healthier sugar and calorie profile has never been greater.

The World Health Organization European Region recently announced a new Member State-led Sugar and Calorie Reduction Network to promote healthier diets and reduce overweight and obesity levels across the region. The United Kingdom, which will lead the Network in its first three-year term, reports that sugar intake exceeds recommendations across all age groups in the country and the WHO reports that excess sugar consumption is true in many other countries in the European region.

Sweegen believes its brazzein ingredient produced through precision fermentation can be part of the solution and the company is currently pursuing a ‘range of global regulatory approvals’.

“Sweegen’s global footprint is growing as we seek regulatory approvals for our next generation sweetener technology including brazzein. We want to provide access to the best tasting nature-based sweeteners to food and beverage manufacturers worldwide,”​ FoodNavigator heard.

“We are well into the future for expanding our sweetener ingredient technology base and complementing it with our Ultratia brazzein and additional sensory tools to match consumers and food and beverage health and wellness trends.”

The addition of brazzein to Sweegen’s Signature sweetness portfolio ‘has stirred great interest’ Mahon said adding that samples are ready to ship and “Sweegen is ready to help brands with their sugar reduction challenges at our global Innovation Studios”.

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