Editor’s Note: Prepared Foods held its annual R&D Applications Seminar last August 2017 in Chicago to serve food and beverage scientists. Following is one presentation from that event.

Second-generation stevia extracts were all about high-purity Reb A. In contrast, today’s third-generation stevia extracts are based on better tasting steviol glycosides with the highest commercial value, Reb A, B, C, D and M. 

Short-term opportunity is to use the better tasting, third-generation stevia in sugar-free products and to formulate with the less expensive second-generation stevia in 50% reduced-sugar products. Longer term opportunities include stevia without farm, i.e., made by fermentation or enzymology, which will soon co-exist with farm-based stevia. Stevia in native and modified forms also have been approved for use as natural flavors.

Alex Woo, PhD., chief innovation officer for Nascent, explained, “Flavor is being redefined as a combination of not only taste, but also smell, sight, sound and touch.” 

Thanks to the rapid advances in neuroscience in the past 15 years, receptors for all five primary tastes have been identified. Contemporary taste and smell neuroscience is the foundation for sweetener and sweetness-modulator ingredient technologies. In his seminar presentation titled “Third-Generation Stevia Extracts,” Woo gave detailed information on such sweetener technologies.  

Technologies go from emerging (discovered but not yet approved); to pacing (first to market—setting the pace); and to mature (patents expired and technology commoditized). Stevia (second and third generation) currently are in the pacing category, while fermentation-based and enzymology-based stevia remain in the emerging category.

Third-generation stevia extracts are blends of steviol glycosides A, B, C, D and M; each with their contributions to a better sweetening experience. Reb B is structurally similar to A but less sweet (150 times sweeter than sugar) and also less bitter. Reb C is much less sweet than Reb A, at only 30 times sweeter than sugar. Reb C, at 80-95% purity, was FDA GRAS in 2015 and is the first minor steviol glycoside proven as a sugar sweetness enhancer and labeled as natural flavor. Reb D is 221 times sweeter than sugar and tastes better than other steviol glycosides.  Reb M is 250 times sweeter than sugar and the sweetest and least bitter of all. 

“Specific blends of these glycosides are being used in beverage applications for best taste and [the] least cost,” Woo added. 

Stevia without farm is made from fermentation or enzymology, and it is the same molecule Reb M as farm-grown stevia, with the same taste.

“Nearly commercially ready in late 2017, each new supplier may need a new GRAS ‘no objection’ letter. Patents are held for both fermentation-based stevia and enzyme-based stevia by a few biotechnology leaders and their food ingredient partners,” Woo explained.

One of the mechanisms for sweet taste modulation is cross-modal correspondence between taste and smell. It is how the brain processes information from different senses to form multisensory experiences in our daily lives. Smell, touch, sight and sound—all can increase sweetness perception for reduced-sugar beverages formulated with stevia. 

Woo described, “Retro-nasal sweet smell is how we make the perception of what is in the mouth sweeter.” 

Many sweet taste modulators now are legally labeled as “natural flavor” for countries honoring FEMA GRAS, he noted.

“Stacking,” Woo advised, “is a sugar-reduction formulation strategy where a combination of plant-based ingredients is used at low levels to build sweetness to the required intensity and profile, while staying below the off-flavor threshold for all the plant-based ingredients used.” 

In summary, stevia extract is plant-based; found in nature; non-caloric; 200 times as sweet as sugar; heat- and pH-stable (>3); non-GMO; and kosher and halal. In addition, its FDA GRAS “No Objection” letter was received in 2008. Usage at 0.02% in beverages delivers approximately 5-6% sugar equivalence. Most commonly, it is labeled as “stevia extract” in the U.S. and as “steviol glycosides” in the EU (E960).

Report Title and Contact:

“Third-Generation Stevia Extracts,” Alex Woo, Ph.D., chief innovation officer, Nascent Health Sciences, 347-583-2601, alex@nascent-health.com. Also visit www.nascent-health.com.