The sweetener has advanced well beyond its beginnings in the United States in 2008.

Since late 2008, when the Food and Drug Administration first started stating it had no objections regarding the use of rebaudioside A, an extract of the stevia plant, in food and beverages, ingredient suppliers have been racing to learn about the raw material and how technologies may be developed to improve its performance as an ingredient. During the past few months several ingredient suppliers have announced new sweetener technologies that have moved well beyond Reb A and that may be positioned as natural in the marketplace.

On Oct. 12, PureCircle, Inc. said it will receive a U.S. patent pertaining to the use of rebaudioside M (Reb M) in beverage applications. Reb M, a steviol glycoside, is extracted from the stevia leaf.

“Our new Reb M product patent is the latest of more than 60 other granted patents across our portfolio of stevia ingredients,” said Avetik Markosyan, Ph.D., vice-president, research and development and process development for PureCircle Ltd.

“Our expanding list of patents reinforces our customers’ confidence in working with us as the industry leader in high-purity stevia.”

It was only a few weeks earlier when Cargill, Minneapolis, introduced EverSweet, a zero-calorie sweetener that offers benefits in calorie/sugar reduction, taste issues and sustainability issues, according to the company.

The new product is produced via the fermentation process and uses baker’s yeast to create EverSweet. Although the sweetener features two steviol glycosides, Reb M and Reb D, that are components of the stevia leaf, it is not sourced from stevia. Cargill expects EverSweet to become commercially available in 2016, or not until after Cargill receives a letter of no objection from the F.D.A. on the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status for the use of the product as an ingredient in foods and beverages. The company said it is currently testing the ingredient with some food and beverage manufacturers.

EverSweet does not have the bitterness or off-note aftertaste associated with stevia-based sweeteners, according to Cargill. Both Reb M and Reb D, two of the sweeter steviol glycosides, make up less than 1% of the stevia leaf.

“With such small quantities available in the plant, it would require significant land use and produce too much waste to be commercially or environmentally viable,” Cargill said.

In the creation of EverSweet, special baker’s yeast is fed simple sugars, which then are converted into Reb M and Reb D more efficiently and in greater quantity than from a stevia plant. Cargill and Evolva Holding SA, Reinach, Switzerland, in 2013 entered a joint development agreement to develop and commercialize the sweeteners. Evolva Holding develops fermentation-based approaches to ingredients, including stevia, vanillin, saffron and resveratrol.

Cargill said EverSweet works well in beverages, including carbonated soft drinks, flavored waters, iced teas, energy drinks, functional beverages, ready-to-drink coffee, powdered drink sticks and liquid water enhancers. Possible dairy applications include yogurt, chocolate milk, ice cream, frozen novelties and smoothies. EverSweet also has been shown to work in cereal, bars and confectionery items.

Beverages sweetened with stevia
Cargill's EverSweet, which is produced using fermentation and not sourced from stevia plants, works in a variety of applications, including beverages, dairy, cereal and confectionery.

“At a time when many consumers want to reduce sugar consumption and adopt healthier lifestyles, EverSweet sweetener offers a new, delicious choice for reduced- and zero-calorie food and beverages,” said David Henstrom, vice-president for health ingredients for Cargill.

The baker’s yeast used to produce EverSweet is bioengineered/genetically modified.

“However, after the yeast produces Reb M and D, the yeast is completely filtered out, leaving only the great-tasting, zero-calorie sweetener,” Cargill said. “Laws and regulations vary significantly from country to country. In some countries the EverSweet product would not be required to be labeled as G.M.O.”

Refining the plant breeding process

GLG Life Tech, Vancouver, B.C., announced on Sept. 30 it has taken a different approach to harvesting the potential of Reb M and Reb D. Through a patented breeding methodology, the company said it had developed a stevia seedling that contains higher levels of Reb D and Reb M glycosides.

Historically, the conventional stevia leaf has had Reb D concentrations of around 0.3% of dry leaf weight, or 2.5% of total steviol glycosides (T.S.G.), and Reb M concentrations of less than 0.1% of dry leaf weight, or less than 1% of T.S.G., according to the company. GLG’s new Reb D seedling has improved both the amounts of Reb D and Reb M. GLG’s new Reb D seedling contains 320% more Reb D than conventional leaf strains, with 1.26% of dry leaf weight, amounting to 9.4% of T.S.G.’s. The company said it expects to have further improvements in the near future.

Stevia fields
GLG Life Tech said it has developed a stevia seedling that contains higher levels of Reb D and Reb M glycosides.

“GLG’s agriculture team has once again demonstrated the strength of our patented non-G.M.O. stevia seedling hybridization process,” said Luke Zhang, chairman and chief executive officer of GLG Life Tech. “These results are extremely encouraging after only 12 months of development by the team.

“In 2014, we were first to develop a new seedling very high in Reb C, and in 2015 our team has once again demonstrated excellent results and progress from our high Reb D and Reb M seedling program. I am confident that GLG will produce higher levels of Reb D and Reb M in our patented seedlings in the near future, replicating the success of our Reb C Gold patented seedling. Reb C Gold and Super RA seedlings are developing very well and we expect these seedlings to be commercially planted in 2016 as originally planned. ”

GLG has filed two petitions with the Food and Drug Administration to have the agency determine the Generally Recognized As Safe status of its high-purity Reb D and Reb M, according to the company.

Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore., is another company innovating with stevia. In September, the company introduced CocoSweet+, a high-intensity sweetener composed of coconut sugar and water-extracted stevia. The blend delivers a flavor profile with hints of honey or caramel, and it has a mouthfeel comparable to sugar, according to the company.

CocoSweet+ has been shown to work in sweet baked foods, including cookies and biscuits, and beverages. It also pairs well with flavored dairy and tea.

“While stevia may be used alone, it is best used in a combination,” said Thom King, president of Steviva Ingredients. “The proprietary blend of stevia and coconut sugar in CocoSweet+ gives food and beverage manufacturers greater flexibility to create clean label, reduced sugar products with extraordinary sweetness profiles.”