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Study highlights stevia sustainability advancements

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Recent innovations in stevia production have significantly improved the sustainability of Reb M, a next-generation stevia sweetener.

A new comprehensive life cycle assessment of stevia by Ingredion Inc. found Reb M outperforms sugar and other sweetener alternatives, such as beet sugar and high fructose corn syrup across multiple sustainability metrics. 

Reb M, a molecule found naturally in the stevia leaf, is a popular zero-calorie sweetener in food and beverage formulations. Unlike artificial zero-calorie sweeteners, stevia sweeteners are naturally derived, garnering popularity from the growing number of consumers looking for natural, minimally processed food and beverages. Reb M, however, is only present in stevia plants in small quantities, limiting its access to food and beverage brands.  

Ingredion’s PureCircle taps innovative production technologies, including bioconversion and fermentation technologies, to develop its Reb M, making the ingredient more readily available and cost effective for food and beverages brands. The company is also aiming to make it more sustainable, per findings of the life cycle assessment. 

The life cycle assessment measured the environmental impacts of common sweetening solutions like sugarcane, high fructose corn syrup and beet sugar throughout the entire life cycle, and compared them to the environmental impacts of stevia technologies, like stevia leaf extraction, bioconversion and fermentation, and stevia ingredients, Reb M and Reb A.  

The study found fermented sugarcane Reb M reduced negative climate change impact by 82%, compared to sugar, while bioconversion showed a 50% reduction. Fermented sugarcane Reb M also used 88% less cumulative energy, compared to sugar, and had a significantly reduced impact on water scarcity. 

“Our latest findings clearly show that all of our stevia production methods consistently outperform sugar across four key sustainability metrics due to recent innovations in Reb M stevia production,” Kurt Callaghan, global strategic director for sugar reduction at Ingredion, said. “Our bioconversion and fermentation capabilities will allow the industry to achieve the same great taste at an even more affordable price while dramatically improving the environmental impacts.” 

According to proprietary research from the Natural Marketing Institute, about 6 out of 10 consumers reported they typically watch the sugar content in their diet or search out food with lower sugar content. Yet, consumers also cited concerns around artificial sweeteners; about 3 in 10 Americans said they use artificial sweeteners as a means to reduce sugar content, but twice as many expressed concerns about their negative side effects. Innovative natural sweeteners can help food and beverage product developers create better-for-you sweets that meet consumer demands for great taste, less sugar and improved healthfulness.   


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