It’s a scary fact for any parent, particularly at bedtime tomorrow: children eat an average of three cups of sugar on Halloween, according to industry estimates.
Consensus on nutrition is a rare thing, but the goal of reducing sugar intake seems as close as we’re likely to get. In a 2016 Reuters poll, 58% of Americans said they had made an attempt to decrease their sugar intake in the previous 30 days and more respondents had tried to cut out sugar than calories, sodium, fat, cholesterol, or carbohydrates.
Innovative Food startups are working to make sure that we don’t have to give up sweets to give up sugar. But despite the noble cause, it’s taking some time for these startups to gain investment traction, as funding for innovative food startups remained at just $206 million in the first half of 2017, a mere 5% of the total agrifood tech sector.
Before the tantrums hit tomorrow night, we thought we would take a look at some of the startups working to change the science of sweet, and maybe the future of Halloween.
Israeli sweetener-alternative startup Douxmatok has boosted the amount of sweetness perceived per gram of sugar by binding the sucrose molecules to the mineral silica, a commonly used anti-caking agent that is approved by the FDA and the EU. According to the company, Douxmatok allows food companies to use 40% less sugar in their products while achieving the same level of sweetness, with no aftertaste.
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Silica is also a naturally occurring mineral in many foods like bananas, carrots, bread, and rice. This binding process causes the sucrose molecules to hit the taste receptors at higher concentrations, increasing the brain’s perception of a sweet flavor. According to the company’s CEO Erin Baniel, the sweet flavor also lasts longer.
Doumatok raised an $8.1 million Series A round from Israeli life sciences and food tech investors in September. The round was led by Pitango, an Israeli life sciences, and healthcare VC, with the participation of existing shareholders, including Gil Horsky, global innovation lead at Mondelez International, and FoodLab Capital, an Israeli accelerator and early-stage food tech investor.
MycoTechnology is using mushrooms and fungi to remove bitter tastes from food and drinks. Through a system dubbed the MycoZyme process, the startup puts foods through a seven to 21-day sterilization, inoculation, myceliation, and drying process using mushroom and fungi roots.
The mushroom mycelium, as the roots are also known, are trained to consume unwanted aspects from foods. The food product is first inoculated with the mycelium then left to ferment and later dried to remove the mycelium.
MycoTechnology has applied this process to chocolate, coffee, and green tea to remove the bitterness and therefore, the need to use sugar and sweeteners, the company argues.
The company is currently offering two products for commercial use, according to its website. ClearTaste, which the company calls a “flavor modulator” or “bitter blocker” that can offset the need for sugar and salt. PureTaste is protein powder made from mushrooms that the company called “the most sustainable protein on the market.”
The company closed its Series B funding on $42 million this month. The round was led by S2G Ventures with co-leads Bunge Ventures and Emerson Collective. Additional investors included Health For Life Capital / Seventure Partners, Middleland Capital, Tao Capital Partners, Eighteen94 Capital, Continental Grain, GreatPoint Ventures, Closed Loop Capital and Windy City.
Miraculex is a San Francisco-based ingredient company creating new zero-calorie sweeteners from plants. The company’s first product is a sweetener designed to mimic the flavor of the West African “miracle berry”. The compound that makes the miracle berry sweet, a protein, has been dubbed miraculin. Because the berries are very difficult to grow, process and store, Miraculex is attempting to synthesize miraculin using lettuce.
Miraculex inserts the miracle berry DNA into the lettuce, instructing lettuce to grow the miraculin protein. The exact method used to do this, they have not publicly shared.
The company was part of the Spring 2016 cohort at SOSV-backed accelerator Indie.Bio from which it received two seed funding rounds in 2016 and 2017.
Blue Prairie Brands is a startup producing various food ingredients from the chicory plant — a perennial root often roasted and added to coffee or used as a coffee substitute.
One of the main components of chicory roots is inulin fiber, which is a prebiotic and is purported to improve gut health and even heart health. Blue Prairie uses proprietary agronomy and cultivation methods, select seed varieties and processing methods to produce chicory flour that is not bitter, but still high in fiber.
The company also makes chicory syrup, which according to Blue Prairie, “includes the many benefits found in chicory flour, but can be used as a binder in nutrition bars, a subtle sweetener in dough and a source of fiber for drinks.”
Blue Prairie raised a $6 million in Series A funding in 2016 led by S2G Ventures and joined by DSM Venturing and existing investors Middleland Capital and Invest Nebraska.
Seattle-based Arzeda has created a software platform that enables the custom design of proteins and enzymes by coding the genetic material that instructs a cell on what to build. The directions are passed on to yeast that produces the proteins from common sugars derived from beet, sugar cane, and corn through fermentation. This feedstock will eventually come from agricultural waste streams, Cofounder and CEO Alex Zanghellini told AgFunderNews
Zanghellini said that his protein design technology could potentially take the place of the petroleum-based materials present in common materials and chemicals from plexiglass to herbicides to sweeteners.
“Instead of taking oil and doing synthetic chemistry, we start from plants and use synthetic biology,” he said.
Arzeda raised a $12 million Series A round to expand the capacity of its synthetic protein and enzyme development operation in July. The nine-year-old company designs proteins for Fortune 500 companies in fields including but not limited to food and agriculture.
This round was led by OS Fund, which, according to its website, “finances and supports inventors and scientists who are working on audacious breakthroughs to solve the greatest issues and opportunities facing humanity today.”