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Crystalline grape sugars: How a technological advance created a natural, GMO-free sweetener


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Crystalline grape sugars: How a technological advance created a natural, GMO-free sweetener

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Grape sugar is an ingredient of great interest for the wine, food and beverage sectors. However, the range of applications is limited by the syrup’s liquid form and fixed sugar composition. These factors have restricted the use of a sugar that is otherwise well suited to today’s consumer demands for natural, free-from sweeteners. Now, Naturalia Ingredients is lifting the restrictions.

Grape sugar is a syrup obtained from grapes through the clarification, deionization — also known as rectification — and final concentration of grape juice. This process removes non-sugar compounds from the liquid, resulting in simpler syrups that contain only water and grape sugars glucose and fructose, in roughly equal parts.

The product obtained from wine grapes, called rectified concentrated must (RCM), is an established ingredient for winemakers for enrichment, sweetening and sparkling practices. More recently, RCM has found favor with food and beverage manufacturers, which use it in fruit juices and preserves, yogurts, baby foods and other products.

Rising interest in grape sugar is part of a broader trend toward greater use of sugars of fruit and plant origin, such as sweeteners obtained from apple, agave and maple plants. These sugars are a better fit with consumer demands for “natural” products than sugars extracted from sugarcane and corn, which dominated the market in the past.

Many consumers want allergen, gluten and genetically modified organism (GMO)-free products of fully-natural fruit origin, demands that are driving them away from products that contain high fructose corn syrup and refined sucrose. Grape sugar and other sweeteners obtained from fruits enable food and beverage manufacturers to meet consumer demands without compromising on taste.

However, the liquid form, the presence of non-sugar impurities that affect taste and color and the fixed, source material-dictated sugar composition of many fruit and plant derived sweeteners limit their use.

These sweeteners are unsuited to applications in which the way the sugar is combined with other ingredients must be regulated, such as baked goods. Applications that rely on careful balancing of different types of sugars, such as ice creams, and those in which dosage requirements otherwise render the liquid form problematic are also off limits for grape sugar and many fruit and plant derived natural sweeteners.

The upshot is a sugar that ticks many of the boxes for today’s consumers — natural, GMO-free and more — cannot be used in many products without negatively affecting their sensory attributes.

Attempts to remedy the problem by creating crystalline grape sugars have been stymied by its composition. While sucrose crystallizes easily, the unbound fructose and glucose in grape sugar resist entering a solid crystallized form.

Solving the crystal grape sugar challenge

Naturalia Ingredients has overcome the challenge of producing crystalline grape sugars. The result is a line of three products — Naturalia crystalGRAPESUGAR, crystalDEXTROGRAPE and crystalFRUCTOGRAPE — that retain the fully natural, fruit origin status and GMO, allergen and gluten-free characteristics of grape syrups but come in a solid form. This significantly expands the breadth of applications in which the products can be used.

Research over many years shows isolating glucose and fructose syrups is essential if the sugars are to be crystallized. However, extracting and crystallizing these component parts of grape sugar has proven to be technically challenging.

Naturalia Ingredients’ solution was to use a chromatographic process to separate liquid glucose and fructose syrups from concentrated and deionized grape juice. Once the two syrups are isolated, they are crystallized in water without the use of other solvents to produce solid fructose and dextrose sweeteners. Both come in a white, crystal form and are more than 99% pure. These sugars are then sold, respectively, as crystalFRUCTOGRAPE and crystalDEXTROGRAPE.

The final step is to combine the two sugars to create the third product, crystalGRAPESUGAR. This is made up of 55% grape dextrose and 45% grape fructose.

Naturalia Ingredients began production of the crystallized grape sugars in 2012 when it opened a facility in Mazara del Vallo, a town in southwestern Sicily. The Italian island is well suited to a grape-based manufacturing operation. The province of Trapani is one of the largest grape growing areas in Europe with 60,000 hectares under vine and benefits from a microclimate that allows the grapes to develop elevated sugar and flavour concentrations.

Naturalia Ingredients’ process extracts sugar molecules from these grapes without altering their essential characteristics or nature. Consequently, the sugar molecules in Naturalia crystalGRAPESUGAR, crystalDEXTROGRAPE and crystalFRUCTOGRAPE are the same as those found naturally in grapes.

Enabling natural, GMO-free foods and drinks

The process allows Naturalia Ingredients and the companies that use its sugars to promote their products as being GMO, allergen and gluten free and of fully-natural fruit origins.

Naturalia Ingredients promotes its products as being of high purity, backed by full traceability of the raw materials and conformant with pharmacopoeias in Europe and the US. The different crystallized grape sugars have different nutritional properties, ranging from the low glycemic index of fructose to the dual-energy function of the grape sugar mixture. The dual function stems from the presence of both slow-release fructose and immediate-release dextrose.

These characteristics are important for many consumers but ultimately products must also satisfy their senses to be successful. Naturalia Ingredients has designed its sugars to provide an optimal combination of sweetness intensity and persistence, making them suitable for use in the masking of the taste of nonnutritive sweeteners.

Food and beverage manufacturers can use the crystallized grape sugars in a range of products. In baked goods, these sugars support the right level of dough elasticity. Finished products have the lightness, softness, golden-brown surfaces and smells sought by manufacturers and consumers. Naturalia Ingredients also claims the humectant and reducing properties of fructose and dextrose, respectively, extend product shelf-life.

In dairy products, particularly fruit-based products, the characteristics of Naturalia Ingredients’ sweeteners help flavor and consistency. Naturalia Ingredients claims similar flavor-enhancements are achieved when working with fruit preserves, jellies, jams, marmalades and ice creams, the last of which also benefit from the sugar’s effect on the product’s freezing point. Lowering the freezing point results in creamier ice creams that are easier to scoop. 

Other uses for the sugars include drinks and other preparations in which their solubility is a plus and in diet and sports supplements. In this nutraceutical context, the dual-energy function of the sugars is potentially attractive to consumers.

Companies in North America can source Naturalia Ingredients’ crystal grape sugars from Faravelli Inc, the US subsidiary of Faravelli Group. Faravelli began operating in its native Italy in 1926, before going on to establish a presence in North America in 2014.

From its base in Decatur, Georgia, Faravelli distributes Naturalia crystalGRAPESUGAR, crystalDEXTROGRAPE, crystalFRUCTOGRAPE and other high-value ingredients that meet consumer demand for natural, GMO, allergen and gluten-free products.


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