Dentists rejoice: all hail the rise of the sweet protein!

Dentists rejoice: all hail the rise of the sweet protein!

The new year brings new year’s resolutions and Lent - and with these, the idea for many to reduce their sugar intake.

For many decades people have switched to artificial sweeteners to reduce their sugar intake. Their reach is massive, ranging from drinks, desserts, ready meals, confectionery and chewing gum, even to toothpaste. However, experts have started to suggest that the use of sweeteners may not after all help dieters avoid raging appetites nor help diabetics keep their blood sugar levels well regulated. There is even a suggestion that they may be broken down by the body into toxic by-products. Not such a healthy alternative after all? 

Then a new kid came on the block: the sweet protein. Sweet proteins originate from “miracle fruits”. This fruit is truly a miracle fruit and has been used in West African countries for centuries to sweeten bread and other food. To date, four sweet proteins have been isolated and purified from unrelated tropical plants: monellin, thaumatin, brazzein and mabinlin. The relative sweetness of monellin varies from 800 to 2000 times sweeter than sugar. Mollenin and other sweet proteins bind the same sweet taste receptor as sugar and have a very similar mouthfeel and taste profile. 

Further, sweet proteins are more cost effective, suitable and climate friendly than sugar, as less land is needed to cultivate sugar producing plants, because far less of it is needed to achieve the same sweetness as sugar. 

There is however a drawback to this miracle product; native monellin denatures at 45 °C and loses its sweetening function, making monellin itself difficult to use in food manufacturing. Monellin is also sensitive to other physical parameters, such as pH or pressure, sometimes encountered during food processing. Protein engineering then becomes a crucial tool in improving sweet proteins’ performances, making them more suitable for industrial applications. 

Thus, different innovators have been focussing their efforts on bioengineering sweet proteins on the basis of monellin and other sweet proteins to increase their performance in harsh conditions, while maintaining their natural sweetening properties. This is a complex process. One of these is the sweet protein is sweelin™ from Amai. The protein is sustainable across a wide variety of foods and beverages and can apparently reduce added sugar by 40%-70% without changing the consumer taste experience. This novel sweet protein can withstand the harsh conditions found in the manufacture of soft drinks, fruit juices, dairy, alternative dairy products, sauces, spreads, snacks, ketchup, chocolate, peanut butter, energy bars, functional foods and much more. The protein has great potential, given its sugar-like taste, high stability and shelf life.  

And, of course, where there is exciting, health-improving innovation, there are patents. Amai has filed applications covering these engineered sweet proteins that have increased stability, such as WO 2019/215730 A1 and WO 2024/003917 A1. Other household brands like Coca Cola are also active in the patent space finding new plant production means for sweet proteins (see WO 2022/251617 A1 and DSM WO 2019/233923 A1 improving the mouthfeel of sweet proteins). 

This year we expect to see a real rise in the use of these proteins and an associated rise in the number of patents being filed, as innovators fall over themselves to develop new, healthier sweeteners – the food nobody needs, but everyone craves! 

If you have any questions or for more information, please contact Rowena Tolley or your usual Kilburn & Strode advisor.

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