BestStevia and the Rest Stevia – SweeGen, Amyris and Cargill in the sweet spot

January 17, 2021 |

We all need some sweet stories these days but many are also starting the New Year by cutting sugar consumption with aims of losing weight or eating healthier, so here’s some sweet news from the likes of Amyris and their No Compromise sweetener, SweeGen’s Bestevia launch, and Cargill’s EverSweet – all using Reb N, Reb M and other stevia leaf molecules, some extracting it from the stevia leaf itself, some replicating it via yeast and fermentation, to sweeten life up a bit.

In today’s Digest, some sweet solutions and stories of scaling up in a $10 billion global market for sweeteners, and more.

SweeGen’s Scale-Up of Bestevia Reb N

Let’s start with the latest news from SweeGen which is now scaling up commercialization of its Bestevia Rebaudioside N (Reb N), a special zero-calorie, highly sought-after natural stevia sweetener.

Following SweeGen’s commercial announcements of Bestevia Rebs B and I this year, and with the addition of Reb N, the company’s portfolio of sugar reduction solutions is the broadest available in the industry for tackling sugar reduction challenges.

“Bestevia Reb N has a unique sweet profile that helps us create solutions that have a taste profile closer to both full-calorie and high intensity sweeteners,” said Shari Mahon, SVP of global application technology. “Our solutions are one of the most unique and tailored in the industry because of our access to the widest range of Rebs for sugar reduction.”

SweeGen’s entire proprietary portfolio of next generation, natural stevia sweeteners are classified as next generation non-GMO, high-purity. The Bestevia portfolio includes Rebs B, D, E, I, M, and now Reb N. These Rebs translate to highly-relevant, clean-label, sustainable, natural sweeteners that consumers are seeking in finished products.

Much like Bestevia Rebs M, E and I, Reb N is found in trace quantities in the stevia leaf, which historically made it difficult and expensive to isolate. SweeGen’s Bestevia Reb N is now accessible because it is produced by a patented bioconversion technology, which starts with sustainably-sourced stevia leaf, and results in great tasting, pure molecules that are found in nature. This process was developed by Conagen, a biotech innovator of sustainable ingredients.

“The introduction of Reb N is another great example of how Conagen’s deep expertise in bioconversion technology enables the creation of unique stevia sweeteners,” said Conagen’s VP of innovation, Dr. Casey Lippmeier. “With such a wide range of next generation stevia offerings now available, we will see a new level of innovation in better-for-you products that was previously considered impossible.”

But What About Amyris’s Reb M?

Ok, so SweeGen’s got Reb N but let’s take a look at Amyris’s Reb M – what makes up their No Compromise brand of sweetener.

We do it the same way you make wine, bread and beer: with yeast. But since yeast only wants to make alcohol, we teach it some new tricks,” according to Amyris’s website. First they program the yeast to make the molecule they want. Then they mix non-GMO sugarcane syrup with the yeast and let it do its natural job: converting the sugar into the amazing biochemistry that becomes the molecule customers need.
The stevia plant has 100+ molecules with a range of taste profiles. But according to Amyris’s website, only one is super sweet: Reb M. “That’s the one we isolate and produce purely, at commercial scale. Giving customers a consistent supply of the purest, best-tasting form of Reb M – with no petroleum or chemical processing.”

According to Amyris’s webpage, “Reb M is a rare molecule found on the stevia plant. It’s the sweetest part of the plant, but it’s difficult to extract. So more sweeteners end up as a blend of the different stevia molecules with a lot of impurities, causing an unpleasant aftertaste. Other companies that produce Reb M use traditional processing methods, which are costly and in many cases involve the use of petrochemicals or even high-fructose corn syrup. Besides the environmental issues associated with those purification methods, they haven’t produced sweetener that comes close to the great taste of ours.”

Amyris has strong ambitions, expecting to own 1/3 of the $2 billion stevia-based sweetener market by 2022 – only a year away!

Isn’t Cargill’s EverSweet made of Reb M too?

So here’s where it gets interesting. Like Amyris, Cargill uses fermentation to make their Reb M and Reb D. Back in 2017, the Digest referred to the Cargill and Evolva collaboration for the commercialization of EverSweet as “Stevia Wonder” which was officially launched in March 2018 and Amyris was close behind with their No Compromise sweetener in December 2018.

Like Amyris, Cargill looked at the more than 50 different sweet components of the stevia leaf called steviol glycosides. “By adding a few genes to the specially crafted yeast, we enable our yeast to produce the same type of enzymes used by stevia plants,” according to Cargill’s website. “We feed our yeast some simple sugars and the yeast transforms the simple sugar into the very sweetest steviol glycosides, just like a stevia plant. The yeast is then filtered away and the remaining sweet steviol glycosides are concentrated and purified. These sweet steviol glycosides are identical to certain steviol glycosides that are naturally formed in very small quantities in the stevia leaf.”

Cargill’s initial evaluation shows that producing their sweetener via fermentation will use significantly less land and emit significantly less CO2 than producing it by growing acres of plants. “Fermentation used to produce Reb M and Reb D for EverSweet stevia sweetener requires a simple sugar source, either sucrose or dextrose. These can be sourced from non-GM commodities such as sugar cane or identity-preserved corn, or from regular corn. Land use impacts are far greater when producing Reb M and Reb D from leaf compared to the EverSweet stevia sweetener fermentation process. Cargill plans to conduct a complete Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) once production is fully up and running.

Bottom Line

So why is this such a sweet story? Because gone are the days of those nasty fake sweeteners we had in the 1980s. Because the options are ever-increasing for actually good tasting sweeteners that don’t affect our waistlines as much. Because the way they are being produced now have much less impact on the environment and planet. So raise a glass of sweet iced tea or lemonade to innovation and more sweet news ahead. Now if only they could make broccoli taste like donuts…


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