California-based GHT introduced the products in early March following a tie up with UK-based ESB Developments Ltd, which supplies GHT with Vitashine, described as the “world’s only known source of Vitamin D3 manufactured without animal products”.
Mass market appeal beyond vegetarian/vegan market
GHT chief executive Jim Rex said: “While our plant based Vitamin D3 product is suitable for both vegetarian and vegan diets, we’re encouraged to see that the mainstream North American market has also responded favorably — as demonstrated by both the diversity of our direct-to-consumer sales, and the increased interest in private-label opportunities.”
Many people are surprised to learn that vitamin D3 usually comes from sheep wool
The two primary forms of Vitamin D are Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Most plant-derived vitamin D is vitamin D2. However, the evidence suggested that D3 – which is traditionally sourced from lanolin (the pale-yellow oil found in sheep's wool) – is better utilized by the body, he said.
However, many firms are keen to find an alternative that doesn’t use animal products, ESB Developments director Mark Broughton told NutraIngredients-USA at the Expo West show in Anaheim earlier this year.
“There is a real demand from vegans and vegetarians, but many other people are also surprised to find that vitamin D3 comes from lanolin or other animal sources and would rather get it from a plant source as well,” he said.
“They are also worried about sheep dip and undesirable compounds getting into lanolin-derived D3.”
On a cost in use basis, you use so little that it is very competitive
Vitashine is sourced from an edible form of lichen that grows on rocks, trees and other locations in North America, Asia and Scandinavia.
“Clearly lichen-sourced D3 is more expensive than lanolin-source vitamin D3, but not massively so”, claimed Broughton. ”On a cost in use basis, you use so little that it is very competitive.”
He added: “We researched a lot of candidate plant materials – lichen, mosses, mushrooms and so on- to see which contained cholecalciferol and we came across a species of lichen that allows us to get virtually the same concentration as from lanolin.”
Alternative production methods explored
The lichen is currently collected in buckets and washed at source, and then put through a multi-step process of extraction (using ethanol), purification and concentration in the UK before it is added to a vegetable oil carrier (medium chain triglycerides).
It is then shipped over to GHT in canisters to be made into finished products.
However, ESB is exploring whether it can be manufactured via a fermentation process as well as wild harvested, said Broughton: “The lichen is actually a combination of a fungus and an algae, so we could grow it in big vats and feed it with simple sugars.
“We wouldn’t need more than one vessel because the volumes needed are actually very small.”