(NaturalNews) We've all heard about stevia, agave nectar, brown rice syrup and other natural sweeteners, but now a new sweetener derived from a West African berry has been successfully synthesized in a form compatible with mass production, and the company Natur Research Ingredients expects to make it commercially available between late 2008 and mid-2009.
The sweetener brazzein, to be marketed under the brand name Cweet, is a protein derived from the berry of the west African plant oubli (Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon). It has long been used as a food source by both humans and animals (particularly apes) in the region, and was first synthesized into a sugar alternative in 1994 by researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Because brazzein is anywhere from 500 to 2,000 times as sweet as sugar by weight, the small amounts needed to sweeten food do not add any significant caloric content (stevia, by comparison, is approximately 300 times as sweet as sugar). Unlike many sugar alternatives, brazzein is said to have no aftertaste, and can even reduce the aftertaste of other non-sugar sweeteners such as aspartame or stevia when mixed with them. Brazzein's sweet flavor also sets in slower and lasts longer than other sweeteners.
Brazzein is also soluble in water and stable at high temperatures and a wide range of acidities. For example, it can persist at 98 degrees Celsius (208 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to two hours. According to Natur, this makes the products suitable for all forms of cooking, including baking, and as a beverage sweetener. Because brazzein is a protein and not a carbohydrate, it does not affect blood sugar and is safe for diabetics.
Natur acquired the sole rights to manufacture and distribute brazzein from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which holds a number of patents on the sweetener and the processes used to manufacture it. Although the university has sought ways to commercialize the sweetener since the 1990s, all such prior attempts have failed. According to Natur, a researcher from the university recently discovered an entirely new process that is suitable for mass production.
"Cweet represents a whole new breakthrough with the ingredient," said Loren Miles, Natur's chief executive officer.
A truly natural sweetener
Because the University of Wisconsin used an artificial process to extract the brazzein sweetener from oubli berries, it was able to obtain patents over the sweetener itself. No credit was given or payment made to the indigenous Africans who had used the sweetener for centuries, drawing accusations that the university had engaged in "biopiracy," stealing ancestral knowledge for private profit. The university retains several patents over the ingredient brazzein.
In a reversal of the university's claim that brazzein is an invented ingredient, Natur says that its sweetener is natural. It has not yet disclosed information regarding the process used to extract the sweetener or any synthetic ingredients that might be used.
"We are using the fruit as a source material for this ingredient," Miles said. "Within three to six months we should be ready to publicly announce further details, but we can disclose this information now to interested parties through a confidentiality agreement."
The next step for Natur is to scale-up production and submit an application to the FDA for "generally recognized as safe" status. Natur says that it expects to receive approval at about the same time it is carrying out consumer tests. But the FDA's GRAS approval is not guaranteed: The FDA is known for denying GRAS status to natural sweeteners (like stevia, which was finally approved only days ago) in order to protect the profits of artificial chemical sweeteners like aspartame. Through a campaign of misinformation, censorship, and tyranny tactics like ordering the destruction of recipe books, the FDA has so far kept stevia out of foods and beverages, thereby protecting the powerful corporations that manufacture and market aspartame (an artificial chemical substance known as an excitotoxin).
According to Miles, Natur has been "quietly discussing" brazzein with a number of major beverage and food companies for the past three months in preparation for FDA approval, and those companies have expressed interest in using the sweetener.
In addition to FDA approval, Natur is seeking approval for brazzein with regulatory bodies around the world. Miles says that the product will probably first be commercially available in whatever country approves it first. Within a few months, Natur expects to announce a partnership with a manufacturing company that will help in the commercialization process.
If all goes well -- and the FDA regulatory blockade against natural sweeteners can be overcome -- we may all soon have access to a new natural sweetener derived from a berry.
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