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'Fermentation revolution' transforming amino acid market, supplier says

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By Hank Schultz

01-Aug-2014
Last updated on 01-Aug-2014 at 19:08 GMT

The ongoing ‘fermentation revolution’ in the supply of amino acids continues to affect the production and potentially the price of these important nutrients, said Jim Schultz, CEO of GWI, a California company specializing in the import of ingredients from China.

 

Schultz spoke with NutraIngredients-USA about information in GWI’s periodic ingredient price review. As in the letter vitamin picture, China dominates the supply of amino acids, Schultz said.  The supply picture there is changing, with traditional production methods being put under pressure by new modes that offer both cost and quality advances.

Duck feathers

“Back in the day, all the amino acids were being produced via a hydrolyzed process. They used human hair or duck feathers for a raw material. That was very commonplace. It was a good process, conducted by mature manufacturers,” Schultz said.  “But it could be less consistent in assay, and there was more concern with heavy metals and with water pollution.”

Using fermentation as opposed to hydrolysis offers some advantages, Schultz said.  For one, the inputs are potentially ‘cleaner.’

“This process starts from corn, so it is a vegan type material.  It has great traction in the marketplace. In the beginning the fermentation products were more expensive than the hydrolyzed. But over time as they have kicked in efficiencies and new plants came on board, not only is the pricing becoming attractive but the customers we sell to are yelling pretty loud about the contamination issues,” Schultz said.

“Fermentation in the end could be cheaper because it is more eco friendly than hydrolysis,” he said.

The move toward fermentaiton has as yet not had a huge impact on the cost of these ingredients, as GWI’s survey shows prices remain fairly steady across the board. But it is a long term trend that over time will transform the market. Most of the amino acids are amenable to a fermentation approach, Schultz said. Among those that must still come from hydrolysis are L-cysteine and L-cystine and L-tyrosine.

GMO issue

It is still unclear how far down the supply chain the issue of the labeling of genetically modified ingredients will reach.  When using corn as an input for fermented amino acids the question becomes, is that corn GMO?  And is that important one way or the other?  Schultz, for one, is not taking chances.

“We are looking into it as we speak.  We have some auditors out there going into corn fields to find out in light of almost all the US corn being GMO. I have been told the Chinese corn is non GMO. If it becomes a problem, producers could possibly look into a different raw material, whether it’s rice or tapioca,” Schultz said.

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