Sweet proteins… finally ready for prime time?

Several companies are now deploying synthetic biology to ‘program’ microbes to express sweet proteins, from Roquette and Brain Biotech AG​​​, who aim to take brazzein (an ultra-sweet protein found in oubli berries that they are producing via microbial fermentation) to market in coming years, to Israel-based Amai Proteins​​ , which makes ‘designer’ sweet proteins.

FoodNavigator-USA caught up with two California-based players in this space: Joywell Foods​​ , which plans to launch CPG products containing sweet proteins this fall; and Conagen​​ , which says it can now produce brazzein and thaumatin I and thaumatin II efficiently at commercial scale via microbial fermentation. Both claim regulatory work determining the sweet proteins’ GRAS status is advanced.

We’re now entering a commercialization phase..’ Joywell Foods to launch beverages containing sweet proteins this fall

While stevia and monk fruit high intensity sweeteners have improved significantly as firms have homed in on the more sugar-like steviol glycosides such as Reb M, sweet proteins add an exciting new dimension to the sugar-reduction toolbox, claims Ali Wing, who took the helm at Joywell last year and is launching beverages containing [as yet undisclosed] sweet proteins this fall: “We’re now entering a commercialization phase.

This doesn’t mean we don’t still work with a few strategic partners on the CPG side, and my guess is over time, we’ll work with more of them. But right now, we’re very focused on launching our own consumer products.”

Miracle fruit: Gettyimages:passion4nature

Sweet proteins include:

  • Thaumatin I and II​: from katemfe fruit, found in West Africa, 2,000-3,000x sweeter than sucrose, readily soluble in cold water
  • Brazzein​: from oubli fruit, found in West Africa, 500-2,000x sweeter than sucrose, heat-stable, stable in a wide range of pH conditions, and highly soluble
  • Pentadin​: also from oubli fruit, 500x sweeter than sucrose
  • Curculin​: from fruit of Curculingo latifolia​ found in West Africa, exhibits sweet-tasting and taste-modifying properties
  • Mabinlin​: from seeds of Chinese plant Mabinlang (Capparis masaikai Levl.)
  • Monellin​: from serendipity berries, found in West Africa
  • Lysosome​: from egg whites
  • Miraculin​: from miracle fruit, found in West Africa. It is not sweet in and of itself, but binds to sweet receptors to cause sour-tasting acidic foods such as citrus fruits to be perceived as sweet

The GMO factor:​ If sweet proteins produced via fermentation do not contain residual levels of genetically engineered microbes, they will not be subject to bioengineered food labeling in the US, although they will likely not meet the criteria for Non GMO Project certification​​​ As they are derived from genetically engineered microorganisms and might be considered a ‘derivative’ of synthetic biology.

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