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Newcomers head for zero-calorie sweetener market

Amyris and partners are latest to launch a fermentation-derived stevia sweetener

by Melody M. Bomgardner
December 16, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 49


Image shows a plate of holiday-decorated cookies and a cup of coffee.
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Amyris will launch a new zero-calorie sweetener for foods, beverages, and tabletop packets.

Companies based on fermentation technology are pushing into the business of making rebaudioside M, a zero-calorie sweetener extracted from the stevia plant.

The Bay Area biotech firm Amyris says it will launch a Reb M-­based sweetener in 2019. It intends to produce the molecule from sugarcane syrup on a large scale via fermentation with modified microbes.

Plant-extracted stevia sweeteners can contain bitter-tasting molecules, Amyris says. Reb M is considered the sweetest of steviol glycosides, but it exists in only tiny quantities in the stevia plant.

Amyris has linked up with ASR Group, the cane-sugar refiner that owns the Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar brands. ASR has agreed to buy 80% of Amyris’s sweetener output for three years.

The company also has partnerships with Brazilian firms, including the cane-sugar producer Raízen. Shoppers in the South American country will be the first to try a tabletop sweetener version of Reb M, made with help from the Swiss flavor firm Givaudan.

Amyris is not the only firm pursuing fermentation-derived steviol glycosides. Last month, Cargill and specialty chemical firm DSM linked up to produce rebaudioside M and D at a Cargill facility now under construction in Blair, Nebraska.

Yet plant-derived stevia sweeteners have a big head start over the new competition. At PureCircle, a stevia supplier to the food industry, CEO Magomet Malsagov disputes the idea that plant-based sweeteners are low purity. “Our products are 95–98% pure,” he tells C&EN. Malsagov says brands prefer ingredients made directly from plants.

The new sweeteners have an opportunity to horn in on the artificial sweetener market, suggests Kantha Shelke, principal at the food science and research firm Corvus Blue. Taste will be more important than cost in appealing to food and beverage formulators, Shelke adds. “People are really tired of bad-tasting sugar alternatives.”


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