PureCircle says it has developed new ways to produce significant amounts of the most sugar-like compounds in the stevia leaf, FoodNavigator reports.
Reb A is the most abundant sweet-tasting component in stevia plants, but the less abundant compounds Reb D and Reb M taste more like sugar. PureCircle has already developed a stevia variety called StarLeaf, which contains 20% more Reb D and Reb M than conventional stevia. The company now says it can use Reb A to produce sweet compounds that taste identical to these sought-after steviol glycosides — the sweet components in stevia.
The company would not say how it converts Reb A, but said the process was different from the fermentation techniques used by some of its competitors to produce more of the most desirable sweet compounds.
Although stevia was hailed as a definitive answer for food and drink makers looking for a zero-calorie, natural alternative to sugar and high fructose corn syrup, it has been plagued by ongoing taste issues, such as lingering bitterness and a licorice-like aftertaste. However, stevia works well in many products, so the number of new foods and drinks sweetened with it has continued to increase, particularly as consumers seek to cut sugar.
Taste is just one hurdle for manufacturers as the naturalness of stevia extracts produced by fermentation of sugars has been called into question — and naturalness is one of stevia’s main advantages over most other zero-calorie sweeteners. PureCircle claims its new ingredients are non-GMO and directly derived from the stevia leaf, which could go a long way toward allaying consumer fears.
So far, the inability to scale up production of the best-tasting steviol glycosides has limited their use. Coca-Cola announced late last year that it had identified a sugar-like glycoside that it intended to use in a stevia-sweetened version of its namesake beverage, which will be launched in a small market outside of the U.S. in the first half of this year. Regardless of how the trial performs, the company said full-scale production of the soda is still a few years away because of challenges in producing enough of the sweetener.
PureCircle’s dual approach — breeding plants with higher quantities of Reb D and Reb M, while also improving the taste of Reb A — could remove this market barrier. And as Coca-Cola’s ongoing efforts show, despite challenges, companies have not given up on stevia.