D-tagatose, an alternative sweetener that has drifted at the periphery of commercial viability for more than a decade, may have a new lease on life because of its blood sugar management properties, according to a study conducted by ChromaDex.
The study, conducting in conjunction with scientific research firm Spherix, looked into the market potential of the sweetener, which can be made from glucose and galactose via an isomerization process.
“Spherix owned a lot of the intellectual property around tagatose,” ChromaDex CEO Frank Jaksch told NutraIngredients-USA. “They have invested a lot of money in science on tagatose and have taken it to the clinic for use of the compound in blood sugar control. So there is an existing bank of data, not all of it published, that this compound can have impact on blood sugar control.”
Struggle to make business case
Tagatose has had a troubled history as an alternative sweetener. It was first produced in industrial quantities in 2002 via a joint venture between dairy giant Arla Foods and German firm Nordzucker, Europe's second biggest sugar producer, called SweetGredients. But production stopped in 2006 after the ingredient failed to gain traction in the market.
Last year another company, Nutrilab NV, a subsidiary of Belgian company Damhert, took a stab at bringing tagatose to market as alternative sweetener by opening a tagatose production facility near Rome, Italy, with an annual capacity of 10,000 tons. Nutrilab says it is confident it can succeed where Arla failed.
Jaksch said part of the renewed interest in tagatose comes from a piggybacking effect on the success of a competing ingredient.
“It’s largely because of the success of erythritol. Erythritol was in the same boat as tagatose up until very recently. Erythritol was around for a long time, since the 90s, and it never went anywhere until very recently when Cargill started using it with stevia in its Truvia product,” he said.
“Tagatose and erythritol are very close to one another in terms of their sweetness, so tagatose fits into that same scheme,” Jaksch said. (Tagatose is 92% as sweet as sugar with a glycemic and insulin index of only 3% of that of glucose.)
But tagatose is like erythritol in another way, too, Jaksch said. As both ingredients require additional processing beyond the glucose stage (in erythritol’s case, a fermentation step) they command higher prices. And right now tagatose, with its less developed supply chain, comes out as the more expensive of the two, Jaksch said.
“Tagatose would be premium to erythritol. But its production it has not been scaled up, so it’s not a fair comparison,” he said. “The cost reduction prospects would be significant. We believe that tagatose can be as cost effective as anything else out there in the market.”
Nutrilab seems to be aiming its tagatose message to start at the bakery sector, formulating special versions of the ingredient to customize its browning properties for example. But Jaksch said his analysis indicated that the best chance for tagatose lay in its key differentiator, and that is the potential health claims for blood glucose management products.
Those claims would rely on specific dosage levels, Jaksch said. That is one aspect of the scientific work on the ingredient that is still ongoing, he said. But he said the effective dose for a health claim is expected to fall within the amount of the ingredient that would be called for in a sugar replacement scenario. And, Jaksch said, it opens up avenues for the ingredient in categories such as sports nutrition products, where a formula could provide energy while at the same time not spiking blood sugar levels.
“It would be good to look at it in sports nutrition products where you delivering, say, 20 grams of carbohydrate. So instead of putting dextrose into it, why not put in tagatose and get better blood sugar management properties?” Jaksch said.
“As part of (our agreement with Spherix) we have received certain rights to tagatose,” Jaksch said. “ChromaDex isn’t in the sweetener business per se. What we are looking at is what’s going to be the key differentiator?
“Tagatose has something that a lot of others don’t and is this clinical data for the use of the compound for anti hyperglycemia effect.”