DOWNERS GROVE, ILL. — CJ BIO, a subsidiary of South Korea-based CJ CheilJedang, is helping plant-based food manufacturers meet demand for clean labeling and natural ingredients with FlavorNrich, which it calls the “world’s first natural cysteine.”

Cysteine is an essential ingredient for creating a meat-like flavor in animal-free products. One of 20 amino acids, it is a key precursor for creating a savory flavor through the Maillard reaction, interacting with reducing sugars to give browned food its distinctive taste. It typically is produced from animal materials through acid hydrolysis or by fermentation with synthetic processes such as electrolysis.

“The raw materials for animal-derived cysteines can be duck feathers or animal skins,” said Paul Kim, global director of human nutrition at CJ BIO, during a Sept. 30 webinar introducing the FlavorNrich ingredient. “That poses issues for people who care more about animal cruelty.”

Animal-free cysteine, meanwhile, traditionally is produced through a process that involves artificially stimulating plant materials with an electric charge. Both acid hydrolysis and electrolysis are synthetic processes that change a material’s original molecular structure, meaning they cannot be used for making natural flavors under food regulations in the United States and Europe, Mr. Kim said. 

“We’re rethinking the production method because 70% of Americans prefer foods that are made with natural ingredients and natural processes,” he said.

CJ BIO’s proprietary cysteine production method relies only on microbial fermentation without electrolysis. The result is a new kind of “third generation” cysteine that qualifies as a natural flavor in accordance with standards based on the US Department of Agriculture’s Organic Program, as well as US Food and Drug Administration and European Union regulations.

“It goes beyond nature-identical and is an ingredient that is actually found in nature,” said Ross Craig, senior marketing and business development manager, human nutrition and health, at CJ BIO. “It’s something that people regularly consume and it’s produced through fermentation with zero artificial reactants. What’s more, it’s made with no animal ingredients and no animal protein.”

FlavorNrich may be used to create meat-like flavors in a range of plant-based alternatives as well as broths, sauces and other animal-free applications.