“This is the most effective stevia masker out there,” Markus Beba, VP of sales and marketing for Geneva-based NTC told FoodNavigator-USA. “There is nothing out there that works this way.”
Interest in stevia has been as intense as the sweetness it produces, particularly since the FDA issued its non-objection in December 2008 that the stevia-derived sweetener Reb A is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as a food additive. Steviol glycosides are also approved in the EU for use in 31 food categories.
Differentiation must be made between rebaudiside A and steviol glycosides in general. Rebaudioside A, also known as Reb A and rebiana, is a high-intensity sweetener derived from the stevia leaf. It is said to be approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Despite the regulatory and industry interest, the market has not been flooded with the quantity of products that many expected.
David Johnston, PhD, VP of innovation for NTC, explained that stevia has two limitations: Firstly, there is a bitterness perceived by certain individuals at concentrations in excess of 300 ppm (“Be aware that bitterness is heterogeneous within the human population meaning what is bitter for one person may not be to the next,” he added), and, secondly, there is a lingering/ licorice taste with a long lasting sweetness profile relative to sugar.
“This is arguably the main issue as it is detected at very low concentrations of stevia and has hindered its success to fully replace sugar in the market place,” he said.
Identifying a solution
The reason for the lingering is linked to the structure of rebaudioside A, he explained, noting that the structure consists of a di-terpene backbone to which glucose is esterified to the carboxyl group. Likewise, the central glucose of tri-glucose chain is linked to the hydroxyl group at the opposing end of the di-terpene backbone.
“By studying the structure of the glycoside, we hypothesized that the perceived sweetness of the stevia was due to the interaction of the sugar moiety with the sweet receptor on the tongue and that the remaining structure (the steviol tail) was binding in a non-specific manner to the cell surface resulting in a prolonged sweetness and giving rise to the characteristic licorice taste,” he said.
“Our solution is a plant derived, natural flavor that competes with the non-specific binding of the glycoside to the taste cell surface. This molecular competition therefore reduces the non-specific binding of the steviol glycoside and consequently reduces the undesired licorice profile providing a consumer-preferred product.”
Dr Johnston and Mr Beba have a long history in the flavor industry, having held senior executive positions at flavor giant Firmenich for many years. Their new venture, NTC, began last year, with the release of an acid masker for dairy products. The company very recently announced the launch of a natural fat enhancer.
The company is keeping its technology proprietary, but Beba added that the ingredient, which can be labeled as a ‘natural flavor’ is non-GMO & allergen free and, unlike many other market solutions, does not contain thaumatin or glycyrrhizin.
The biggest market for the stevia masker is beverages, said Beba, but it also works in yogurts. Tests in bakery products are being done at the current time, he told us.