Stevia from fermentation: the threats and opportunities

By producing stevia through fermentation, hailed as the answer to its supply and taste problems, the industry risks losing its most promising natural sweetener – but this may create a new market for new niche stevia products, say analysts.

Current methods of extracting the various glycosides from stevia – which exist in mostly very small amounts in the stevia leaf, notably rebaudioside M – is a laborious process and so fermentation, without having to cultivate or even use the leaves, promises to both improve taste and reduce costs.

But because leaves are central to stevia’s natural image, some see this as potentially risky.

Euromonitor analyst, Simone Baroke warns: “The mere fact that a product is based on an innocuous raw material is not sufficient to pull the ‘natural’ wool over consumers’ eyes. Stevia’s already wobbly status as the only ‘natural’ low-calorie sweetener is about to be thrown into even greater jeopardy.” 

For Mintel analyst David Turner, this is unlikely to have an effect in the short term as consumers still associate fermentation with a natural production process.

But the European Stevia Association (EUSTAS) believes that stevia’s reputation is at stake: “Of course this will damage the natural reputation of stevia even if (in Europe) stevia extracts are not allowed to be labelled as ‘natural’ but from ‘natural origin’, board member Monica Lorenzo told FoodNavigator.

“The expectation of consumers is to get a natural product, and this is no longer the case when produced through fermentation. Furthermore, this is not a fermentation process that could be considered as natural (like for cheese, wine, beer, yoghurts…) but a fermentation process that uses genetically modified yeast, so a type of production that doesn’t exist in nature.”

Yet those who are at the forefront of developing the fermentation process see it as a way to expand consumer choice.

Stephan Herrera, vice president of strategy & public affairs for Evolva – the company which, in partnership with Cargill, has patented the fermentation technology – said: “Fermented stevia will simply expand the options of products sweetened with this amazing product. Again, some consumers will prefer the leaf taste, some will prefer the taste produced through fermentation. We are opening up the stevia market so that all individuals around the world can enjoy it.”….. Read the full article

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