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Albemarle Company Offers New Sugar Substitute

The makers of tagatose claim it has few calories or carbs but tastes and works like sugar.
Bonumose, Inc.
The makers of tagatose claim it has few calories or carbs but tastes and works like sugar.

Human beings love sweet things, and some forms – like cane sugar – are ideal for baking and beverages. It carmelizes when heated, provides structure and a lower freezing point for dairy, making creamier ice cream possible. Cane sugar is also cheap. Not so for many substitutes like Stevia.

“A lot of people complain about some bitter notes and after taste,"says Bonumose CEO Ed Rogers. "It lacks bulk, so it doesn’t have the mouth feel people are familiar with.”

He and his partner knew another sweetener – tagatose – could do all the things cane sugar could -- without causing a rise in blood sugar. It could, therefore, be safely ingested by diabetics or people worried about gaining weight.

“It’s got the same chemical formula – C6H1206 – as fructose and glucose, but it doesn’t get absorbed in the same way," Rogers explains.

The problem is that tagatose, found in small amounts in apples and some grains, was ridiculously expensive to extract. Working in a lab in Blacksburg, Rogers’ partner found a way produce it in bulk.

" What we do is we take starch, and we add a combination of enzymes and covert it directly to tagatose at extremely high yields," Rogers says.

There is, he adds, just one possible downside that may lead food processors to use tagatose in combination with other sweeteners.

"When it comes to beverages, you probably will end up doing a blend with some other sweetener, because tagatose is like fiber – if you overdo fiber, it can cause gastric issues."

They’ve patented the process and with backing from Hershey and the parent company of Domino Sugar, intend to invest more than $27 million in an Albemarle County plant that could provide competition for the $100 billion a year sugar industry.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief