Enzyme evolution: New enzyme development and new uses

28 Feb 2019

Enzymes have been used to answer many of the biggest challenges facing the food industry, from tackling food safety issues, to reducing sugar – and new ones are being developed constantly. What are some of the latest developments?

A handful of companies supplies most of the world’s enzymes. Danish firm Novozymes is the market leader, while other major players include US-based Dupont, DSM in The Netherlands, and BASF in Germany.

Enzyme evolution: New enzyme development and new uses
Cutting sugar has been a major focus for enzyme technologies

Recently, however, a number of smaller firms has entered the industry with new enzyme technologies.
For example, an Israeli start-up called Better Juice has developed an enzyme technology that can cut the amount of sugar in orange juice by up to 80%. It won the Most Innovative Technology award at the 2018 Start-up Innovation Challenge at the HiE event in Frankfurt for its sugar reduction process, which it developed in conjunction with The Hebrew University in Rehovot, Israel, and The Kitchen Hub incubator. The technology can cut sugar in any fruit juice, but those that contain sucrose – like orange juice, for example – also get a fibre boost, as enzymes convert the sucrose to fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a prebiotic dietary fibre.

Meanwhile, German biotech firm c-LEcta has developed a process that uses enzymes to expand production of a plant-based sweetener said to have a more sugar-like taste. The company has recently partnered with an unnamed ingredient company to commercialise the technology.

Other companies also aim to use enzyme systems to scale up production of plant-based sweeteners and nutritional ingredients that currently have limited supply. France-based Alkion BioInnovations, for example, is focused on high-value ingredients with scale-up issues, such as the sweeteners brazzein and thaumatin, as well as stevia, and flavours like vanillin and saffron.

In addition, many enzymes that have been around for decades are finding a new lease of life. For instance, lactase traditionally has been used to split the milk sugar lactose into its constituent sugars, galactose and glucose, in order to make lactose-free dairy products. But because these sugars are much sweeter than lactose, the enzyme can be used to sweeten flavoured dairy products, allowing manufacturers to use less added sugar.

Other enzymes that traditionally have been marketed for their ability to cut the cost of production – such as those that reduce cheese making process times, or allow brewers to clarify beer without the need for cold stabilisation – have had their message revamped to take into account industry’s focus on sustainability issues as well. While some of the main drivers for enzyme development include more efficient processing and reduced cost of production, they may also help manufacturers hit more environmentally-minded targets for reduced energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Apart from the many benefits that enzymes can bring to foods and beverages themselves, they also do not need to feature on ingredient lists because they are usually processing aids rather than ingredients, thereby tapping into industry demand for clean label approaches to reformulation.