Let’s Talk about Some Sweet Compounds
Sweetness is a primary taste linked to eating sugary food items. Foods tasting sweet are considered as pleasing to our taste buds unless consumed in excess. There are various compounds, apart from sucrose, that is sweet. It includes aldehydes, ketones, and sugar alcohols. Certain compounds such as saccharin and aspartame comprise of low sweetness concentration.
These are usually used as non-caloric substitutes for sugar. Sucrose is regarded as the prototypical model of the sweet. All the other sweet compounds are rated about sucrose. Fructose is a good example of this. It is considered to be almost twice sweeter than our sucrose. When it comes to the sweetest compound in the world, thaumatin takes the credit. It is a protein that not a lot of people have heard about.
What is Thaumatin?
Thaumatin is nothing but a protein, quite known for its sweetening and flavor-modifying traits. Initially, it was discovered as a blend of proteins extracted from katemfe fruits (Thaumatococcus daniellii) from West Africa. Few of the proteins from the thaumatin sweetener family are more than 2000 times sweeter than sucrose. You will be surprised to know that although thaumatin is the sweetest substance globally, the way it tastes is totally different. Its sweetness takes time to build slowly and can last for a pretty long time.
It leaves an aftertaste that is quite similar to licorice. Thaumatin is a water-soluble substance and is stable under acidic conditions or when heated. Generally, the thaumatin molecule binds to the eater’s tongue during the consumption of the fruits. It is also known for improving the flavour of sour-tasting foods. It is the interaction of thaumatin with human TAS1R3 that produces a sweet taste. Only apes, including humans and the old world monkeys, can perceive the taste as sweet because the residues formed during the interaction are specific to these animals only.
How did Thaumatin Become Famous?
Thaumatin has been famous for its robust taste enhancement properties for years. West Africans have been using it for sweetening their sour fruits and cornbreads for centuries. It came into the attention of the West for the very first time during the 1840s. It was when WF Daniell, a British Army Surgeon, was posted to this region. He noted how the West African locals used thaumatin. Later, he came up with a pharmaceutical journal where he reported all his findings. Thaumatin and its sweetening properties became a great centre of focus towards the 1970s, and its marketing path was defined by this for some time.
What is the Source of Thaumatin?
Thaumatin is naturally sourced from Thaumatococcus daniellii. West Africa has been locally cultivating this fruit for years, and it also uses it in food flavours and beverages. This rhizomatous herb can be indigenously found in West Africa’s rainforests that stretch to Sierra Leone from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This herb has also been introduced as a plant species in Australia and Singapore. The plant grows up to a height of thirteen feet and has large papery leaves. These leaves can be around 18 inches in length. It bears soft fruits that contain several shiny black seeds along with pale purple blooms.
You can see a fleshy red aril covering the fruits. It is this central portion of the fruits which contains thaumatin. Besides being cultivated and sold for its sweetening properties, the seeds and leaves of these plants have several medicinal benefits. It was in the 1970s when Tate and Lyle began to extract thaumatin from the katemfe fruits. Unilever declared that they had successfully extracted two proteins of this fruit and named them thaumatin I and thaumatin II in 1990. The European Union, Israel, and Japan have approved the protein as a sweetener. On the other hand, the United States of America recognizes it just as a flavouring agent.
How is Thaumatin Crystallized?
As thaumatin crystallizes rapidly and easily on mixing with tartrate ions, the mixture is often used while studying protein crystallization. The solubility and crystallization habit of thaumatin relies on the added precipitant’s chirality. When it is crystallized with D-tartrate and meso, it forms some study and prismatic particles. The solubility of these particles increases when the heat reduces. When you mix it with L-tartrate, bi-pyramidal crystals are formed. You can raise the solubility of these particles by increasing the temperature. Hence, it is important to keep the chirality of a precipitate in control with the protein is undergoing the process of crystallization.
The Characteristics and Uses of Thaumatin
Thaumatin is often used to flavour palm wine and as a sweetener, of course, in cooking. It can also be used in healthy alternatives to artificially sweetened sugary treats. It is regarded as a safe food ingredient that the human body can consume. However, chewing production plant from Switzerland identified the plant thaumatin as an allergen. The plant powder results in allergic symptoms in occupationally exposed people in the upper airways. After a liquid form replaced the powdered themautin in the company, all the affected individually got completely rid of the symptoms. (See Top 20 Foods that contain Antioxidants)
The Nutritional Factors of Thaumatin
As it is a protein, thaumatin consists of four calories in every gram. As it has a very high potency compared to sugar, it is used in extremely small quantities. So, thaumatin does not give measurable calories when it is used in food. Thaumatin, like stevia, has been in use for centuries, and it does not show any signs of risk to human health. It gets digested just like other proteins and hence, is not toxic at all. It does not add any calorie to the human diet even though it is around 2000-3000 times sweeter sugar (sucrose). Even though thaumatin is rarely found on your regular grocery store or supermarket shelves, you may find it in some of your food items. Make sure to read the ingredient list of whatever you buy, especially the baking supplies. If you are lucky, you will find its mention!