Stevia suppliers talk Reb M and the future of stevia at IFT show

July 23, 2018

With more suppliers launching Reb M ingredients, stevia companies at July’s Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago spoke about ongoing efforts to commercialize and scale up supply.

Reb M is the buzzword in stevia these days. With more suppliers launching Reb M (rebaudioside M) ingredients, stevia companies at July’s Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago spoke about ongoing efforts to commercialize and scale up supply.

Cargill (Minneapolis) said it is finally now shipping EverSweet, its Reb M and Reb D sweetener produced through fermentation, to customers after many years of working toward commercialization. “We’ve gotten orders and have already shipped our first shipments,” Mandy Kennedy, Cargill’s senior marketing manager, told Nutritional Outlook.

Kennedy said Cargill expects products containing EverSweet to start hitting store shelves fairly soon. In other recent news, she added, EverSweet recently gained non-GMO certification from NSF International’s Non-GMO True North program.

Kennedy commented on the growing market interest in Reb M. “I think as more people are tasting Reb M, they’re realizing how good it tastes. EverSweet is mostly Reb M and Reb D. That’s why we went down this path and have invested so much money into creating this. We saw such a significant difference in taste between the two [Reb A versus Reb M/Reb D] and knew how hard it is to get Reb M from the leaf.”

Formulators who may have had trouble sourcing leaf-based Reb M can now turn to EverSweet, she said. “Availability and ability to scale up is one of the [challenges] we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, with [formulators saying], ‘I formulated [my product] around this, and now I can’t get my hands on any Reb M, so how do I get my hands on it?’ We have so much more flexibility with the fermentation-produced product versus a crop.”

PureCircle (Chicago), whose Reb M ingredients are produced only from stevia leaf extraction, has a different take on leaf-derived stevia. The company says Reb M supplies are plentiful and that the firm has greatly increased its Reb M supply for the food and beverage market. This increase is the result of increased acreage of the company’s proprietary Starleaf stevia leaf, which is said to contain greater amounts of Reb M compared to conventional stevia plants, which typically contain only small amounts of Reb M in each leaf.

“PureCircle can now supply enough Reb M to sweeten about 500 million cases of zero-calorie carbonated soft drinks,” the company said in a press release, adding that in three years, the firm anticipates being able to supply enough Reb M to sweeten one billion cases of zero-calorie carbonated soft drinks.

Not only that, the company said, “PureCircle further estimates that, depending on amounts purchased and terms of purchase, companies buying Reb M from PureCircle will find the cost of using it to sweeten a beverage or food equivalent to their cost of using sugar to achieve the same level of sweetening.”

Carolyn Clark, head of global marketing, PureCircle, also spoke about the food and beverage industry’s growing interest in Reb M. “I think what you’re seeing out here [at the IFT show] is playing out kind of how we’ve been talking to our customers. When Reb A was first introduced, it had its taste challenges. It had some linger, some metallic aftertaste. Reb M becomes a fantastic option" because it is more sugarlike, without many of the off notes associated with Reb A, she said.

PureCircle is also now using enzyme technology to accelerate the rate at which the glycosides in the stevia leaf progress from Reb A to D to M.

“As the leaf ages, some Reb A molecules grow up and mature into Reb D molecules and then to Reb M molecules. That’s how the leaf works naturally, and so by really studying and understanding the leaf, we were able to find an enzyme that’s able to achieve a similar process for us,” Clark explained. “We’re able to accelerate the process and do that at scale, which allows us also to plan our ability to scale up Reb M for our global brands.”

Also at the show, ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle (London) and stevia supplier Sweet Green Fields (SGF; Bellingham, WA) highlighted their new Reb M ingredient, Tasteva M. In May, Tate & Lyle announced it had acquired a 15% stake in SGF.

 

Reb A Innovation

Not all stevia talk involved Reb M. Tate & Lyle and SGF spoke about two other latest stevia launches: Optimizer Stevia 4.10 and Intesse Stevia 2.0.

Optimizer 4.10 blends Reb A glycosides, yielding a Reb A ingredient that is more sugarlike but also still affordable, the companies said. By optimizing the ratio of glycosides, Optimizer Stevia costs up to 30% less than a more expensive, high-purity Reb A ingredient like Reb A 99% (RA 99%), they said. “A lot of customers use RA 99% for some significant Brix reduction, but RA 99% is an expensive item, and if I can get equal or better performance characteristics by just knowing which combinations work in the applications that RA 99% works in, then I have an advantage and the customer has the advantage,” said Mel Jackson, PhD, SGF’s chief science officer.

Like Optimizer 4.10, Intesse 2.0 is an optimal combination of specific steviol glycoisides. The ingredient is suited for high sugar replacement at a cost 20%-50% lower than other premium stevia ingredients, the companies said.

 

The Future of Stevia

Jackson said this science of tinkering with the ideal ratio of glycosides to achieve certain desirable performance characteristics may well be the future of stevia itself: moving forward, the best-performing stevia ingredient might not be a singular steviol glycoside but rather a blend of ingredients that, depending on ratios, can be adjusted to optimize taste, cost, performance, and supply according to a company’s needs and budget.

“We’ve found that certain steviol glycosides really have a synergy, and if you know which ones to look for, then you can enhance them or reduce others,” Jackson said. “There are many ways to skin that cat.”

Different glycosides have different strengths, he pointed out. “If you look at Reb A, Reb D, and Reb M, you’re looking at three very different glycosides. They have very different characteristics, ranging from taste to solubility. Reb D is not very soluble. It’s a very difficult molecule to use in applications where you need a lot of it. There are different characteristics of different glycosides, and so thinking about Reb D or Reb M as a sole sweetener-it’s a good thing in some ways, but there’s so much more that we can do there because Reb A and Reb M, for example, have a fantastic synergy.”

“There are all sorts of combinations we can come up with, and they’re going to be quite application specific,” he concluded. “So, I think that Reb M, Reb D, all of the newer [glycosides] are going to fold in here as we go through product development. They can increase the applications spectrum.”