A No-Calorie Sweetener You Probably Never Heard Of
Of all the no-calorie sweeteners on the market, there’s one you probably never heard of, even though it may be in some of the foods and beverages you are enjoying right now. That no-calorie sweetener is called thaumatin.
No-calorie sweeteners are popular with people who are trying to lose weight or keep it off, but some also are controversial because of associated health risks. Among those questionable sweeteners are artificial sugar substitutes such as acesulfame potassium, advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
What is thaumatin?
Thaumatin is in a different category—no-calorie sweeteners derived from natural sources. You may already know two members of this group—stevia, which comes from a South American plant, and monk fruit, which is the product of a perennial vine belonging to the gourd family.
Thaumatin hails from Sudan and is a protein derived from the katemfe fruit, which grows on the perennial herb Thaumatococcus daniellii, found in the West African rain forest. Natives in that area have used thaumatin as a sweetener for hundreds of years in baking and cooking and in the making of wine.
The katemfe fruit consists of 1 to 3 black seeds that are enveloped by a gel-like substance and an aril (a membrane-like sac), which is where the sweet material lies. It’s been said that the sweetness of thaumatin builds slowly and lingers a long time.
Because thaumatin is a protein, it does have a small amount of calories (4 per gram), yet because it is extremely sweet (about 2,000 to 3,000 times sweeter than table sugar [sucrose]), only a minute amount is necessary for sweetening, which makes it essentially a no-calorie sweetener.
Thaumatin was approved as a sweetener in Japan in 1979 and has gained approval in Europe as well. In the United States, however, thaumatin has only achieved GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe) as a flavor enhancer from the Food and Drug Administration, but not as a sweetener. When used in foods and beverages, it appears on ingredient panels as “natural flavor.”
Among the other benefits of thaumatin, besides its no-calorie status, is its ability to enhance the taste of salt and sugar replacers in foods and combine well with other sweeteners, as well as the fact that it is water soluble and is stable to pH and heat. All of these features make it highly useful for food manufacturers.
For now, consumers in the United States won’t be seeing thaumatin used as a no-calorie sweetener, although it could still be in some foods in your kitchen under the label “natural flavor.” If you have access to foods from Japan or Europe, you may see this natural sweetener listed on the label.
Also Read Why everyone should say goodbye to artificial sweeteners
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