- Scientists with the PureCircle Stevia Institute and KeyGene have completed sequencing of the stevia plant genome, according to Food Ingredients First. This will help provide better understanding of how steviol glycosides produce the plant's sweetness and potentially lead to improved varieties.
- "These findings provide strategic enhancements to our breeding and agronomy programs, as well as tremendous utility for scientists, farmers and developers working with stevia as a non-GMO ingredient," said Avetik Markosyan, Ph.D., PureCircle's vice president and head of group research and development.
- Results of this research, which was co-funded by PureCircle and Coca-Cola, were presented Oct. 19 at the International Congress of Nutrition in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This development means that the best-tasting steviol gycosides — the chemical compounds which give the plant's leaf extracts sweetness — could be optimized for food and beverage use. There is also potential for improvements in the level of well-known minor glycosides such as Reb D and Reb M, according to PureCircle.
Stevia is naturally 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar with zero calories. This natural potency means a little goes a long way, so brands can use far less of the ingredient. It is a natural sugar alternative market leader and continues to gain ground for a couple of reasons. The stevia plant, which is native to South America, is sustainable and easy to grow almost anywhere. Research estimates the global stevia market was $347 million in 2014, and will increase to $565.2 million by 2020. And, unlike previously popular artificial sweeteners like aspartame, stevia is 100% natural, meeting consumers' clean label desires.
One of the biggest downsides to stevia is its aftertaste, which makes this research all the more groundbreaking. Manufacturers often search for the glycosides that work with their products to mask the aftertaste. Knowing more about the glycosides, as well as how they can be isolated and how they work, can help all manufacturers improve their stevia-sweetened products.
PureCircle noted that the data have been integrated into CropPedia, a comprehensive bioinformatics platform developed by the Netherlands-based KeyGene, so that chemists, biochemists, geneticists, and agronomists can better understand the biosynthesis pathways and can rapidly create improved stevia varieties using traditional breeding practices.
According to Mintel, the use of stevia in new food and beverage product applications is rising. The percentage of products launched containing stevia in the second quarter of 2017 rose more than 13% compared to the year-ago period. As of August, stevia was an ingredient in more than a quarter (27%) of new products launched using high-intensity sweeteners this year. The top categories using stevia among the new product launches were snacks, carbonated soft drinks, dairy, juice drinks and other beverages.
Stevia use in CPGs is expected to grow exponentially in anticipation of the revamped Nutrition Facts label, which will require all food products to explicitly list added sugars. A number of stevia varieties are shelf-stable and can be heated up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural ingredient can also be blended with other sweeteners and used in virtually any food or beverage application.