Sugar substitute

Developed from a West African plant, a new product called Cweet offers another alternative in the non-artificial sugar substitute category currently dominated by products derived from the stevia plant. But is it really natural?

Cweet is not currently approved for distribution in the U.S., but the company anticipates being available in the next one to two years, reports FoodNavigator.com. And the product has the potential to become highly competitive in the plant-based low-glycemic sweetener category, suggests Loren Miles, CEO of Natur Research Ingredients.

The brazein plant (Pentadiplandra brazzean Baillon) creates a protein that is 2,500 to 4,000 times sweeter than sucrose by weight, which makes it more affordable than stevia and monk fruit. Production costs are also lower in converting brazzein into a sugar substitute through a unique patented process called “bio-fermentation.”

According to FoodNavigator.com, Cweet is not extracted from the actual brazzein berries, but created from food grade bacteria in a process that was developed at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The technology involves “growing” large quantities of the plant protein in tank vessels within several days.

The company suggests this bacteria method is more sustainable than stevia or monk fruits because the process involves no tree orchards that require the use of natural resources including land and water.

Cweet’s manufacturers also praise the product for not having a bitter aftertaste like stevia, saying the flavor profile is more like sucrose.

But is it still natural?

Cweet’s production methods—using the bio-fermentation process—could hinder its success as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame. Stevia has found its way into a number of food and drink products in recent years, but consumers are still not totally confident in it as an ingredient, particularly when it’s labeled as “steviol glycosides” according to research conducted by Leatherhead Food Research.

Recent regulatory discussions over stevia labeling in Europe have also focused around whether or not stevia is actually a natural product because it’s derived from an extract taken from the plant leaf, and Cweet’s brazzein’s production could face similar scrutiny from consumers and regulatory agencies.

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Image: Steve Snodgrass