Avansya, the joint venture between ingredients majors Cargill and dsm-firmenich, has secured positive safety opinions for its EverSweet stevia sweetener from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Safety Authority (FSA).
In the case of EFSA, its Panel on Food Additive and Flavourings (FAF Panel) assessed the EverSweet production process, which involves fermenting simple sugars using a genetically modified strain of yeast (Yarrowia liolytica VRM) to makes steviol glycosides, including Rebaudioside M (Reb M) and D.
Viable cells and DNA from the production strain were not found in the final product. Given that all steviol glycosides are metabolised in the same way, the panel judged that existing data for Reb M and related steviol glycosides can be relied on for the new additive. There is no safety concern at the existing acceptable daily intake of 4mg/kg body weight per day, concluded the regulatory body.
The novel sweetener, which is already available to food and beverage manufacturers in the US, Canada, and Mexico, is now awaiting final authorisation on this side of the pond.
How is EverSweet different from other stevia sweeteners?
It has been a journey to get to this point. Swiss biotech company Evolva, which first developed the EverSweet concept, partnered with Cargill through a joint development agreement back in 2017. The following year, ingredients major DSM (now dsm-firmenich) also got involved, teaming up with Cargill to accelerate EverSweet development under their Avansya JV.
EverSweet was first commercialised in the US in 2019, and Avansya expects regulatory approval in Europe to come through this year.
Stevia is a well-known non-nutritive sweetener many times sweeter than sugar. For example, 4g of steviol glycosides provides the sweetness equivalent of one kilogram of sugar, because it is perceived to be 250 times sweeter.
And because they are many times sweeter, they don’t present the same health risks associated with sucrose – such as tooth decay, obesity, or diabetes.
So what is it about EverSweet that sets it apart in the world of sweeteners? Why did two ingredients majors collaborate (and even set up a new 50:50 venture) in the hope of bringing it to market?
Steviol glycosides from the stevia leaf have been authorised as sweeteners for more than a decade in the EU. The best-known steviol glycoside, Reb A, can be extracted from the stevia leaf in commercial quantities. But Reb A has a bitter aftertaste, which food and beverage formulators can struggle to mask.
However the stevia leaf also contains other steviol glycosides which offer a ‘cleaner’ and ‘more-sugar-like’ taste, according to Avansya CEO Andrew Ohmes. These include Reb M and Reb D, which are present in very small quantities in the stevia plant (making up less than 1% of the leaf). While some companies are working to extract these components by breeding stevia varieties with higher levels of these glycosides, Avansya is taking a different approach.
Fermentation-derived, rather than leaf extraction, technology
To make EverSweet, Avansya uses yeast (Yarrowia liolytica VRM) to convert simple sugars into these sought after glycosides via a microbial fermentation process at its production facility in Nebraska, US.
“We use a specially developed yeast and sugar to produce the same great-tasting molecules also found in the stevia leaf,” explained Ohmes. “The yeast consumes simple sugars and creates the sweet components (Reb M and Reb D) that are identical to those found in the stevia leaf. The yeast is then removed, leaving the great tasting EverSweet product.”
As to why EverSweet must undergo regulatory approval, despite stevia leaf derived glycosides having long been authorised in the EU, the CEO explained that constrains from extraction technologies and precision fermentation are different, and therefore result in different substances profiles.
“Whenever a new technology is used to produce a sweetener that may lead to changes in specifications and risk assessment, EU authorities make sure these new specifications and production methods do not raise safety concerns. This is what happened with EverSweet, for which the new process was cleared by EFSA.”
EverSweet: health and sustainability benefits?
EverSweet is considered Avansya’s ‘premium’ sweetener. According to CEO Ohmes, its improved sweetness profile represents a ‘notable’ advance over earlier generations of stevia products, which also allows for ‘much deeper’ reductions in sugar. In many applications, the additive can enable up to 100% sugar reduction.
The company promotes it for a ‘wide range’ of reduced of no-sugar-added food and beverage applications, ranging from beverages to dairy and plant-based dairy alternative products, cereals, bars, and confectionery.
Another potential health benefit comes from recent research, which found that consuming stevia sweetener does not appear to alter the composition of the gut microbiota. Avasnya’s own research, which has yet to be published but has been accepted into an academic journal, found similar results.
But the extent to which non-sugar sweeteners, such as stevia, benefit consumers looking to lose weight, remains unclear. Last year, the World Health Organization released guidance advising against these kinds of sweeteners being used to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases.
In response, Ohmes told us: “EverSweet plays an important role in the formulation of new foods and reformulating existing foods to meet consumers’ demands for low or no sugars.”
From a sustainability angle, EverSweet is a winner, we were told. Previous research has found Reb A-based stevia sweetener causes less environmental impact across a wide range of markers (including land use and water consumption) when compared to sugar. But according to Avansya, EverSweet is more environmentally sustainable still.
The additive offers ‘meaningful’ sustainability advantages over other Reb M stevia sweeteners sourced via the stevia leaf or bioconversion, we were told, resulting in less land use-related impacts, a lower water footprint and a reduction in carbon footprint.