PureCircle plans to bring glucosylated stevia to Europe with EFSA request

© iStock/Studio-Annika

PureCircle has requested a safety opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for glucosylated stevia as it hopes to bring the enzymatically modified sweetener to the European market in 2018.

The product is part of the Malaysian company’s Zeta portfolio and is called Zeta-LE in reference to 'leaf' and 'enzyme'. EFSA received the mandate from the European Commission's Directorate General SANTE last month.

Glucosylated stevia is manufactured by adding between one and twenty additional glucose units to the steviol glycosides that are extracted from the leaves of the plant.

This is done using enzymes that transfer glucose units from a starch source to the steviol glycosides, resulting in a mixture of around 80 to 92% glucosylated molecules and between five and 15% non-modified parent molecules.

According to the patent for Pure Circle’s glucosylated stevia leaf extracts the glucosylation process is performed by cyclodextrin glucanotransferase using the starch as a source of glucose residues.

“This glucosylation process is commonly known in the food and beverage industry and is often used to modify ingredients, such as with starches and fibers to offer additional functional benefits,” Faith Son, vice president and head of global marketing and innovation at PureCircle, told FoodNavigator. "Our research indicates the taste profiles [of Zeta-LE] are similar to Reb M and Reb D at zero calories across a range of applications including beverages and table top products."

A spokesperson for EFSA said that, as per the usual procedure, it was currently checking the application for validity and would then transfer the dossier to the Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food so its working group could draft a scientific opinion.

The full authorisation procedure takes around nine months unless an extension is deemed necessary due to insufficient data. Pure Circle, which has requested that some parts of the EFSA dossier remain confidential, hopes to get the green light in 2018.

How is it labelled?

As for how the product can be labelled on-pack, it’s still a very new product and guidelines are still being established, Son said.

“[We] believe consumers deserve access to simple and transparent labelling which helps them understand the differences in the types of stevia ingredients being brought to market.” 

“[PureCircle] supports labelling enzymatically modified stevia leaf extract in a way that distinguishes it from traditional stevia leaf extract. For example, it could be labeled as enzyme-treated steviol glycosides, enzyme-modified steviol glycosides or modified steviol leaf extract.”

What’s the deal elsewhere?

Glucosylated stevia is currently approved in the US, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.

In the US, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) categorises enzyme-modified steviol glycosides as FEMA GRAS 4728 - Glucosyl steviol glycosides. 

If they are used in a product below a certain threshold, the glycosides act by enhancing the sweetness or altering the perceived sweetness (rather than acting as sweeteners) which means they can be listed as ‘natural flavour’ on the label.

Above this threshold, the glycosides function as a sweetener and therefore must be listed as enzyme modified steviol glycosides (or an equivalent term).

Fermented or modified stevia: ‘It’s like comparing apples and oranges’

Son did not say how glucosylated stevia extract compared to fermented stevia - which uses a genetically modified yeast to brew the best-tasting sweet molecules without using the leaves – in terms of cost, water usage or production time but was keen to emphasise the difference between the two.

“The process for modified stevia leaf extract is significantly different compared to producing steviol glycosides from microbial fermentation. We have seen this product referred to as fermented stevia, which is wrong in this case. The microbial fermentation process does not come from the leaf nor has anything to do with the leaf. It is a bit like comparing apples with oranges.”

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