Health conscious consumers may soon be able to enjoy indulgent foods with drastically fewer calories without sacrificing taste or flavor. It may sound too good to be true, but according to David Rowe, founder and president at Choco Finesse, the proof is in the chocolate pudding.
The potential breakthrough ingredient is called Epogee, a shorthand moniker for its scientific name: esterified propoxylated glycerol. According to Choco Finesse’s data, the product lowers total calories by up to 45% per serving and cuts up to 80% of the total fat in a wide range of foods. For each unit of fat replaced in foods, calories from fat are reduced by 92% with Epogee. Initial food uses include chocolate, baked goods, peanut butter, and pasta. The solid fat replacement is slated to hit the market in 2017.
Up until recently, Epogee was a self-funded endeavor for Choco Finesse, which is comprised of a team of food experts involved with Epogee’s development and marketization. But the company recently closed a $2.3 million venture round with a group of 15 individual investors.
Choco Finesse is using some of that funding to navigate the myriad regulatory hurdles that apply to food products like Epogee, especially when it comes to food safety and human health.
According to the company, Epogee is the culmination of 17 years of research and development. The last seven years have been dedicated to perfecting the product and making sure it’s market ready.
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For Rowe, Epogee is not just an exciting breakthrough for the food industry.
“This is the most exciting and most useful new food technology in the world. That sounds like a big claim, but our population is overweight, and we have many current challenges involving rising obesity rates,” explains Rowe.
Many people struggle to make the necessary dietary changes or are simply unwilling to swap out some of their favorite unhealthy snacks for lighter alternatives, he says adding that “there are an enormous number of people who are interested in enjoying food with fewer calories and not being hungry. We have a huge opportunity.”
Originating at Kansas State University, the science behind Epogee begins with a fat molecule, which consists of glycerin with three carbon molecules and fingers of molecules called fatty acids.
“Basically, we pull those pieces apart and away from the glycerin and put a little connector between the two and reattach them,” explains Rowe. “This is just tweaking the fat enough, so the connector resists the enzymes and lipases that normally break the fatty acids away from the glycerin and start the digestion process of fat release.”
Epogee is cream in color and has a semi-solid consistency.
Bloomer Chocolate Company, the self-proclaimed largest cocoa processor and ingredient chocolate supplier in North America, is sold on Epogee’s potential. It’s created a new chocolate coating product called Wonder Line using Epogee. The company is marketing this line as having one-third fewer calories than regular coatings and almost two-thirds fewer calories from fat.
Choco Finesse worked with Bloomer to conduct consumer taste tests during the product’s development stage. According to these studies, 60% of folks preferred the wonder line coating containing Epogee to the traditional counterpart.
“The challenge is to communicate, provide information that describes the safety and performance of Epogee, and then be patient as food manufacturers develop food with it,” Rowe explains. “We have to support their efforts and recognize it takes time. Ultimately, you want consumers to try it with confidence. Once they are happy, they will come back.
As for competition, the fat replacement space is a bit of a ghost town, says Rowe.
Fat has proven to be a tricky molecule to crack. In 1996, the fat substitute Olestra, also called Olean, took supermarket shelves by storm. The product was used in a wide variety of foods including potato chips and other ready-to-eat snacks. Only a few years after its market debut, however, consumers began avoiding foods containing Olestra due to its gastrointestinal disturbing side effects—something Rowe refers to as “the dirty underwear experience.”
A warning on products containing Olestra also advised consumers that it would inhibit the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients.
“The failure of Olestra left this area with no innovative activity. If a company the size Proctor & Gamble failed, it meant this wasn’t a very promising area for innovation,” says Rowe. “We studied the Olestra experience and had the benefit of not going down the same road.”
Unlike Olestra, which was derived from sugar, Epogee is created using fat.
What makes fat so challenging is not the molecule itself, it’s the large amounts in which people tend to consume it.
“We chose chocolate and not potato chips for that reason. People tend to eat a lot of potato chips in one sitting, giving them a large exposure to the product. Chocolate tends to be a smaller exposure,” says Rowe.
Choco Finesse is also exploring Epogee’s suitability for frying things like french fries and doughnuts.
Fat isn’t the only ingredient getting a makeover. Late last year, Nestlé announced that it might have created a new type of sugar that offers the same sweetness with only 40% of the caloric punch. As consumers pay more attention to food labels and their diets, companies are clamoring to reformulate classic products to meet this new demand.
“I think there is a growing realization that we are going to have to make some substantial changes in terms of reducing calorie intake,” says Rowe. “People are looking for new big ideas on how to deliver food that our customers like using existing channels and leveraging existing major brands. How do we bend the curve, so the brands mean ‘great taste, fun, comfort, and familiarity,’ but with something that has a significantly different dietary component?”