Rainforest produces low-cal sweetener

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Germany, Ghana

As an army of chemists around the world continues the march towards
replicating in the laboratory the sweetest gifts from nature, a
small group in West Africa is determined to stake a claim in the
process.

Spurred on by the assertion that companies send researchers into the rainforest to discover promising new natural substances and once found, the company registers a patent or trademark and begins to cash-in, Ghana has decided to counter this.

A useful plant that can easily be cultivated under plantation trees is the katemfe bush, a plant native to the African rainforest. That thaumatin, one of the strongest known natural sweeteners, can be extracted from the katemfe berry is not a new discovery.

The US FDA long ago classified thaumatin as "generally recognized as safe" and the EU approved its use in chewing gum, desserts and soups under E 957.

The low-calorie sweet protein is already being marketed and attempts to produce it by genetic engineering are underway. However, in order to ensure that Ghana does not miss out, a production facility to exploit this natural resource is currently being set up in the country using ginancial aid provided by the DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH).

"We deliberately kept the entire process simple, from processing the berries to the finished powder product,"​ said Dr Wolfgang Krischke of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart.

"We designed and combined the individual steps such that the specialists in Ghana, who we train in Germany, can service and repair the plant on their own as much as possible,"​ he added.

Samartex​ is currently analysing the German market and is already establishing contacts with potential customers. A Hohenheim university working group is looking into ways of maximising crop revenues.

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