Coffee with Joywell's miraculin-based sweetener, derived from the Synsepalum dulcificum berries pictured here. Photo credit: Joywell Foods

Miraculex rebrands to Joywell, raises $6.9m Series A for plant protein sweeteners

July 21, 2020

Joywell Foods has raised $6.9 million in a Series A round led by Evolv Ventures, the $100 million foodtech fund backed by Kraft Heinz.

Also participating in the fundraise were California’s Khosla Ventures and New Jersey’s SOSV – both of which had earlier backed Joywell’s seed round.

Previously known as Miraculex, the Davis, California-based startup is developing a range of healthier sweeteners and taste modifiers built from natural proteins. These proteins are derived from “exotic fruits” and are tinkered with using Joywell’s fermentation technology to transform them into products suitable for use in the food industry.

Co-founder Alan Perlstein hit on the idea after his grandmother lost her sense of taste following a bout of chemotherapy in the 1990s. After doing some online research to find out how she might restore her tastebuds, he found out about a species of berries originating in the West African rainforest that was purported to be thousands of times sweeter than sugar.

The berry — from the Synsepalum dulcificum plant — contains a compound called miraculin, a glycoprotein that doesn’t actually taste sweet by itself. However, it has the novel effect of making anything consumed immediately after it, even sour foods, taste sweet.

Biotechnologist Perlstein ordered some of the berries and eventually began cultivating them in his basement, launching Joywell in 2014 to explore commercial possibilities around miraculin.

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The startup has since begun work on brazzein, another plant-derived protein extracted from the West African Oubli plant that is between 500 and 2,000  times sweeter than commonplace sweetener sucrose.

In September last year, former Starbucks and Bulletproof 360 exec Karen Huh was brought on as Joywell’s new CEO, to position the company for commercial growth and oversee the rebrand from Miraculex to better reflect its diversification beyond miraculin.

Since Huh took the helm, the startup has published a peer-reviewed toxicology study on miraculin, has filed three provisional patent applications in the US, and has launched a consumer product called the ‘Pop Lolly’ – a reduced-sugar popsicle containing its miraculin-based sweeteners.

Joywell will use the Series A capital to ramp up research and development, build out its tech platform, and add more products to its portfolio. The funding will also assist it in its aim to test-launch some of its products through limited direct-to-consumer and

“These funds bring us one step closer to our vision of eliminating the prevalence of sugar in our diet. Sweet proteins […] can reduce how much sugar we consume in our daily lifestyle,” Huh said in a statement.

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