New vanilla flavour solves chemical reliance

Related tags Carbon dioxide

Danish biotech company Poalis, in a ground-breaking move, says it
has developed a new vanilla flavour using yeast and sugar which
will be drastically cheaper than its chemical counterpart, and be
better for the environment, reports Chris Mercer.

The company, which has patented the technology under the name GlyLink, claims its new production process can make natural vanilla alternative, vanillin, for half the cost it takes to produce this using chemicals such as benzene.

As a result, Tune Marschall, Poalis chief executive, believes GlyLink can bring down vanillin prices by around €3 per kilo from current average prices which stand between €9 and €11 per kilo.

High benzene prices, having risen from €400 per ton to €950 per ton since the start of 2004, may also play in Poalis' favour and Marschall said that if these remained high then the company could steal half the market from chemically produced vanillin in the next few years.

Around 15,000 tons of chemical vanillin is produced every year and market demand for a vanilla alternative is likely to remain strong due to the higher price of natural vanilla, which rose by 64 per cent between 1999 and 2003, coupled with vanilla's position as the world's most popular flavour used in a variety of foods and cosmetics.

The root of Poalis' cost-cutting is GlyLink's brand new method of harnessing the yeast fermentation process, similar to that used in beer brewing, to produce nature identical vanillin.

This means the vanillin is produced as a by-product as the yeast breaks down glucose into energy. Poalis, which makes a range of aromas for the cosmetics and food industry, has been working on this biological production method for two years.

Professor Birger Moller, Poalis chairman, said the efficiency of using micro-organisms instead of plants, which have been commonly used in biological flavour production, "will open up a technology that can replace the bulk of chemical flavour production"​.

Marschall was keen to stress the environmental importance of this development. "Our method plays very well with the current climate for reducing carbon dioxide emissions because our process is based on natural plant material, where the process will take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the chemical vanillin process the base material is oil, which results in carbon dioxide discharge,"​ he said.

Marschall added that a number of major companies had shown an interest in GlyLink and that the company would look to make gains worldwide but concentrate on the larger US and European markets first.

The assault on chemical production is likely to be spearheaded by Poalis' brand new flavour component, vanillin glucoside, which has been developed alongside GlyLink and consists of vanillin tied to a sugar molecule. The sugar is intended to slow the release of flavour and therefore provide longer-lasting taste for consumers.

"Aroma coupled with sugar is typically known from fresh berries and fruit, and this contributes highly to the taste sensation,"​ said Marschall, who added that the use of GlyLink and the low price of sugar as a raw material meant "we have proved it is possible to produce vanillin glucoside at commercially interesting costs."​ The company is also keen to try out this technology using other flavours.

Marschall estimated that its biologically produced vanillin could be on the market within 18 months, but the company must first find a collaborator to help sell its products, and then ensure its new vanillin and production process complies with additive laws and standards in its initial target markets of the US and EU.

Poalis was founded in 2001 by a number of professors with specialisms in plant science and agriculture. The company's major shareholders now include Danisco Venture, subsidiary of Danish ingredients giant Danisco, and Danish brewer Carlsberg.

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