KANSAS CITY — Advancements in the stevia/steviol glycoside category have led to new sweetener options for food and beverage formulators seeking to reduce sugar. Issues to consider when choosing a sweetener include the percentage of sugar reduction desired, cost, sustainability, and whether to stay with a stevia leaf extract or a sweetener produced through fermentation.

Interest in sugar reduction, natural sweeteners and stevia, a zero-calorie high-intensity sweetener, remains high.

This year’s International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey found 72% of respondents said they were trying to limit or avoid sugars. Northbrook, Ill.-based MarketsandMarkets estimated the global natural sweeteners market will reach $2.8 billion in sales in 2020 and projected sales will reach $3.8 billion by 2025 through a compound annual growth rate of 6.1%.

Allied Market Research, Portland, Ore., in a report issued last year valued the global stevia market at $637.1 million in 2018 and forecast it to reach $1.16 billion by 2026, equating t0 a compound annual growth rate of 8%.

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., has expanded its portfolio of steviol glycoside sweeteners during the past year. The company last year acquired a 75% stake in stevia supplier PureCircle, Inc. Then this May Ingredion became the exclusive global business-to-business commercialization partner for Amyris’ sugar reduction technology, including Amyris Rebaudioside M sweetener created through the fermentation of sugarcane.

“Ingredion, via its PureCircle subsidiary, is the exclusive global business-to-business commercialization partner for Amyris’ sugar reduction technology that includes fermented Reb M,” said Nate Yates, global platform leader, sugar reduction and specialty sweeteners for Ingredion. “Sales of the product will be incorporated into our extensive stevia portfolio. Existing customers of Amyris will be transferred to PureCircle by Ingredion.”

While the Reb M from Amyris is produced through fermentation, PureCircle offers a Reb M sweetener extracted from stevia leaves.

“Reb M is one of the best-tasting molecules found in the stevia plant,” Mr. Yates said. “The addition of Amyris’ technology completes the trifecta with extracted and bio-converted Reb M, providing PureCircle by Ingredion the most comprehensive range of stevia ingredients and technologies.”

Cargill, Minneapolis, initially offered Reb A extracted from stevia leaves in 2008. The launch of ViaTech sweeteners, which leverage the steviol glycosides from the leaf in optimal combinations, followed.

“During all that ViaTech work, while we were tasting all these steviol glycosides together, we found that Reb M and Reb D were really the best-tasting glycosides,” said Andrew Ohmes, global product line manager for high-intensity sweeteners for Cargill. “The problem was, there just wasn’t really a lot of them in the stevia leaf.”

Cargill and Royal DSM, Heerlen, The Netherlands, formed a joint venture, Avansya, to create Reb M and Reb D through fermentation of a specialty crafted yeast in 2019. Those sweeteners now have the EverSweet brand name.

“EverSweet is the way to get closest to sugar,” Mr. Ohmes said.

This year Cargill and DSM worked on a life cycle analysis verified by a third party. The analysis found EverSweet offered environmental advantages over other sweeteners, including sugar and stevia-based systems. When compared to bio-converted Reb M sources, EverSweet produced a 60% lower carbon footprint and required 70% less land.

“It is far more sustainable to produce Reb M and Reb D through this fermentation process,” Mr. Ohmes said.

Food and beverage companies should note EverSweet does not come from the stevia leaf.

“If you want to make a leaf claim and put a leaf on the front of your package, then you really need to stick to the Reb A products and ViaTech,” Mr. Ohmes said.

Among the sweeteners, Reb A may be the most cost-effective when not as much sugar reduction, say 30%, is desired, Mr. Ohmes said. ViaTech will get reduction closer to 100%, and EverSweet is able to reach 100% sugar reduction.

Stevia leaf research

Research is focusing on increasing the amount of Reb M and Reb D sourced from stevia leaves.

Tate & Lyle, PLC, London, offers Tasteva M and Tasteva D sweeteners made from a bioconversion technology that delivers Reb M and Reb D taste profiles at a cost-competitive and sustainable price point, said Megan Bishof, director, stevia commercialization.

“Bioconversion starts with stevia leaf and converts more readily available steviol glycosides to more rare options like Reb D and Reb M,” she said. “This technology helps to deliver sustainable Reb M and Reb D to the market at cost-competitive price points.”

"We now have a deeper understanding of the minor glycosides and how they combine with Reb A or stevioside to improve the overall taste profile of stevia sweeteners." — Dirk Reif, ADM

Last year Tate & Lyle acquired Sweet Green Fields, a manufacturer of stevia-based ingredients based in Bellingham, Wash. All the stevia-based sweeteners are derived from stevia leaf extracts. Some sweeteners are available as certified organic through the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

ADM’s SweetRight Edge stevia takes advantage of nearly all steviol glycosides found in the stevia plant through extraction and purification, said Dirk Reif, technical director, sweeteners for Chicago-based ADM.

“Stevioside and Rebaudioside A are the most abundant steviol glycosides in the stevia leaf, but many more are available for use,” he said. “We now have a deeper understanding of the minor glycosides and how they combine with Reb A or stevioside to improve the overall taste profile of stevia sweeteners. We maximize the glycosides that taste the best while minimizing those with less desirable attributes, such as bitterness, linger and astringency.”

Stevia is considered a clean label ingredient, he said.

“Though some formulators might rely on enzyme or fermentation technology to create a specific steviol glycoside, all of the steviol glycosides in our SweetRight stevia sweeteners are extracted from the stevia leaf,” Mr. Reif said. “Therefore, our food and beverage partners can confidently make claims that resonate with shoppers, like plant-based, no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners.”

SoPure stevia from Nascent Health Sciences, LLC, Iselin, NJ, uses the naturally occurring steviol glycosides found in and extracted from the stevia leaf, said Michael Chen, executive vice president.

“Most in the industry are already familiar with more popular glycosides like Rebaudioside D and Rebaudioside M due to their sugar-like taste, but there are other lesser-known glycosides like Reb E, Reb F, Rubusoside, and Steviolbioside that have other functional properties beyond sweetness,” he said. “The SoPure stevia portfolio offers all these glycosides, from the common to the rare, in high purity or in carefully crafted combinations that maximize the natural synergy of the glycosides.”

Nascent is developing new varieties of the stevia plant that yield a higher concentration of targeted glycosides via natural pathways like cross-breeding and hybridization.

“One of our varieties contains 30 times higher concentrations of Reb M than the original variety,” Mr. Chen said.

International approvals

SweeGen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is gaining international regulatory approval for its Bestevia Rebaudioside M sourced from the stevia leaf. In May, the Malaysia Ministry of Health accepted SweeGen’s Bestevia sweeteners Reb D, Reb E and Reb M for use as ingredients in food and beverage products.

“Asia-Pacific is a very important region to us as we are consistently earning regulatory approvals there,” said Luca Giannone, senior vice president of sales for SweeGen. “Our footprint is growing in Asia as we have regulatory approvals in Malaysia, Singapore and several more countries are underway and anticipated later this year. The formal opening of our Singapore innovation studio will be in line with the gradual easing of COVID-19 conditions in the region.”

SweeGen’s Reb M sweetener also is in its final phase before the European Union publishes its approval, said Michael Halvorsen, senior director of business development, EMEA for SweeGen. The company launched a food and beverage applications center in London in January and has a Reb M manufacturing facility in eastern Europe.

“The (manufacturing) facility is already prepared and ready to chart a new course in sugar reduction in Europe,” Mr. Halvorsen said. “For the past few years, SweeGen has been collaborating with major food and beverage manufacturers in Europe to explore application developments for creating sweet taste innovations. Now, the products are near ready to launch on the market.”