Rebecca Prescott talks to Jeremy Thompson, director of product management, natural sweeteners, Tate & Lyle Speciality Food Ingredients, about monk fruit as a sweetening ingredient.
Please tell us what monk fruit is and what it's used for in the food and beverage industry.
Jeremy Thompson: Monk fruit is also known as luo han guo and is native to Southeast Asia, where it has been in use for hundreds of years. Its pulp is steeped in hot water to release a natural, calorie-free sweetening ingredient that's around 150 times sweeter than sugar.
Monk fruit extract is a great-tasting way to reduce sugar and calories into a variety of foods, including beverages, dairy, cereals, confectionery and bakery products.
Tate & Lyle's Purefruit is extracted from monk fruit. Can you explain a little more about its stability and function?
Thompson: Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract helps our customers meet consumer needs for great taste, lower sugar and natural products, and Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract has the added advantage of delivering a sweetness extracted from fruit.
It's very stable at both acid and neutral pH, and is stable in typical food manufacturing processes such as pasteurisation.
How easy is it to incorporate into food and beverage products in terms of manufacture and process?
Thompson: Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract displays good solubility and can easily be incorporated into food systems.
It can be used with all other sweeteners, and blends can be developed to give the desired taste and nutritional composition. Tate & Lyle has substantial experience in this arena and we can collaborate with customers to speed their product development efforts.
We have seen a number of different formulation approaches being taken. Customers are taking a 'toolbox' approach when developing foods/beverages with Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract similar to what we've seen with other high potency sweeteners over time. Combinations with stevia, fructose and sugar are not uncommon, depending on the formulators' objectives around taste, cost and labelling.
It doesn't seem to have received quite as much media attention as other sweeteners. Why do you think that is?
Thompson: I would say we're extremely happy with the level of coverage we've received on our Purefruit products and on monk fruit, more broadly. Monk fruit is very new; Tate & Lyle has been marketing Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract, in the US only, since May 2011.
At the moment, Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract isn't available in Europe. Bottom line: we don't measure our success by the amount of media coverage our ingredients receive, but rather by the number of customers we've engaged on the product and the amount of sales we achieve. Based on these metrics, we're happy with where the business is today given it's still early in the business development cycle.
What are the positive and negative aspects to it as a sweetening agent?
Thompson: Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract is a great-tasting, zero calorie sweetener made from a fruit. The fact that it comes from fruit is a very positive point of difference. The fact that a food or beverage can be sweetened with something derived from a fruit is easy for consumers to understand.
In multiple consumer studies across a range of countries, we have found products with this messaging to be the top pick of consumers across most food and beverage categories; consumers are willing to pay significant premiums for it versus mainstream food and beverage products, on average around 20% premium over sugar-sweetened products [Affinova 2012].
We don't find negative aspects with Purefruit Monk Fruit Extract. It's a more expensive option than some sweetening choices, but consumers are willing to pay for the benefits delivered which turns this potential negative aspect into a positive one as well.
What research is going on behind the scenes in terms of sweetener and sweetener alternatives?
Thompson: Specifically in sweeteners, our vision is to be the leading Sweetener Solutions House, with deep expertise in applications, sensory and formulation, focused on helping our customers meet consumers' ever increasing demand for great-tasting and healthier products.
With that in mind, we have a robust pipeline of research and development projects under way in the sweetening space aimed at building on our core position in high potency sweeteners and functional sugars.
- Caffé Culture 2013, in pictures
- Tetra Pak receives DuPont Continuing Innovation Award
- Pom-Bear Zoo snacks from Intersnack
This article was first published