UK-based Magellan Life Sciences is scaling up their production of brazzein, through its patent-pending fermentation process. The company believes it will be the first to market the natural sweetener on a major scale. Using an FDA-approved microorganism strain and food-grade chemicals, Magellan Life Sciences has developed a unique process that promises commercial quantities of brazzein that are “identical to nature.”
Brazzein is a sweet-tasting protein which occurs naturally in the West African climbing fruit – oubli (Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon). The natural sweetener contains zero calories and is 1,500 times sweeter than sugar. It also has no bitter aftertaste, something which is favorable in the natural sweeteners space. The oubli fruit itself is very rare to come across. It is also protected by biodiversity laws meaning that extraction up to now, has been very difficult.
Magellan Life Sciences was formed in India in 2013, then in January this year, the company received funding and moved their business to the UK, where there has been more interest for natural sweeteners, coming from Europe. The scale-up process is being done in the UK. Dr. Abhriham Dukkipati, CEO of Magellan Life Sciences hopes that the price can be competitive and similar to that of 98 percent pure stevia. “We want to hit the ground running with this in 6-12 months,” he adds.
With regards to fermentation techniques, they are cleaner than chemical processes and according to Dr. Dukkipati, that is what is driving the push towards fermented foods and ingredients.
“If this molecule already existed in nature and we aren’t making any changes to it, it is appealing to consumers and manufacturers in all senses,” he tells. “It also has a safe documented history of consumption and is a natural ingredient.
Requests for brazzein have been increasing slowly, according to Dr. Dukkipati, compared to when the company first started production three years ago. “There is now a more significant demand from the industry, that wasn’t there before,” he claims. “There is a lot of unexplored potential for brazzein, for example, the UK sugar tax came into force recently, so now there is a much bigger interest in natural sweeteners.”
The UK’s sugar tax, which came into force in April, pushed up the price of sugar-sweetened soft drinks across Britain. It has two tiers; a lower rate of 18 pence per liter for beverages with a total sugar content between 5-8g per 100ml and a higher price of 24 pence per liter for drinks with total sugar more than 8g per 100ml. As a result, there has been an increase in beverages using natural sweeteners and a growing overall interest in plant-based sweeteners.
“Consumer mindset has changed in relation to sugar. So it is a good time to be in this space to tackle this problem and use brazzein as one solution,” he reveals.
It’s a very exciting time to be in the field of sugar reduction, says Dr. Dukkipati.
“We believe that nature has already given us answers to sugar reduction in the form of molecules that are already there as plants. These molecules are sweet tasting and low calorie. They are not carbohydrates, like sugar, but instead, they are protein molecules and deficient in calories.”
“Inspired by nature, we use advances in biology and fermentation processes. So we are producing this through very safe microorganisms. Basically, we are taking these things from natural and making the same natural molecules in a fermented way,” he explains.
Brazzein has a very clean taste profile, according to Dr. Dukkipati. “It is also very heat stable, you can heat it and cool it down and it still stays sweet. So from a manufacturers’ perspective, it’s a very good option, compared to other natural sweeteners on the market. It’s also very pH stable, making it suitable for carbonated beverages.”
“It ticks all the right boxes, from what a consumer wants to what a manufacturer wants,” he claims.
Dr. Dukkipati also notes that work been conducted into synergies with other sweeteners. “Brazzein can mask the bitter aftertaste of stevia, a combination of brazzein and other artificial sweeteners results in a more sugar-like taste profile and better mouthfeel,” he says.
It can also be used together with sugar to create a natural mid-calorie beverage. “In many product lines where the entire sugar cannot be replaced due to its bulking properties (such as baked products), the number of sugar levels can be brought down by substituting brazzein thus making the product healthier,” Dr. Dukkipati says.
“We are scaling up production now to supply our collaborators in kilogram quantities (in sweetness equivalent to sugar),” he adds. “Our final production scale will be at the multi-ton scale (in sweetness equivalent to sugar),”
“It has not yet been approved to be used as a sweetener. We will clear the approval process in the next 18 months. Commercially, we cannot use it now. But, for formulation trials, new product development and personal tasting, it can, of course, be used,” he notes.
Brazzein can be used in beverages, dairy, yogurts and as tabletop sweeteners. “We would like to get it into confectionery and bakery products, but that will be difficult because you need sugar to keep the texture for these types of products. It’s more of a technical textural issue that needs to be addressed before it can be used in place of sugar, but that is something that is being worked on. So it could be promising, in the future,” says Dr. Dukkipati.
Brazzein is a natural molecule and has been used in Africa by local people for centuries. However, because it is going to be a novel ingredient, it has to go through the correct approval which Dr. Dukkipati believes will happen in the next 12-18 months.
“I don’t foresee any issues with getting approval, thanks to its long history. It has been consumed for a long time in Africa and there is nothing to suggest it isn’t human-friendly,” he notes.
Elsewhere in the pipeline, Dr. Dukkipati hopes to see more protein-based sweeteners from the company. “In the future, we would like to use our platform to make a lot of other plant-based molecules that would be similar to brazzein. There’s much more that can be done with taste modulation and flavors, for example. But for us, it would need to be from nature and also a protein.”