Dieters, particularly in Australia, are increasingly using the 'glycemic index' (GI) as a form of carbohydrate control. The GI is a numerical system of measuring how fast a food or ingredient triggers a rise in circulating blood glucose; the higher the GI, the greater the blood sugar response. A low GI food will cause a small rise in blood sugar levels, whereas a higher GI food may trigger a large increase.
"These results, well below that of competing sweeteners, may make foods and beverages with tagatose even more attractive to a weight-conscious public that increasingly embraces lowering carbohydrates to lose weight," said Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, executive officer for science at US firm Spherix International, the inventor of the low-calorie sweetener.
Patented by Spherix, Gaio tagatose is produced from milk sugar lactose. In 1996 Denmark's MD Foods (subsequently taken over by Arla Foods) acquired the rights to this low calorie sweetener with a prebiotic effect - it stimulates the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system - for use in foodstuffs. Today the product is manufactured and sold as Gaio tagatose for food and beverage uses under license by Arla Foods Ingredients.
Frustrated by the slow arrival of its patented sweetener to the marketplace in 2002 Spherix begun legal proceedings against the 'overly cautious' MD Foods, claiming that the Danish company had taken an "unreasonably long time to bring tagatose to market".
In October last year the European Commission gave the thumbs up to a joint venture between Danish/Swedish company Arla Foods Ingredients and German sugar giant Nordzucker, to bring tagatose to the marketplace.
The clearance came just a few months after the two companies christened their first tagatose plant for production of this full-bulk sweetener in Germany on the site of Nordzucker's sugar plant near Hanover. Both companies have high hopes for the product, which looks and tastes like sugar but contains only about a third of the calories.
"Our first priority right now is to achieve successful commercial production of something that has never been produced before," said Mads Vigh, commercial director at Arla Foods Ingredients, in June 2003. "With Gaio tagatose in production, we hope to confirm the market potential we believe exists," he added.
The recent study by Sydney university's Glycaemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS) is a step towards fulfilling the potential. According to Spherix, the university stated that, compared to glucose, which had glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of 100 per cent, Gaio tagatose produced very low glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of only 3 per cent.
"Tagatose tastes and acts like table sugar, and can be used to sweeten foods and beverages either by itself or in combination with high intensity, synthetic sweeteners," says Spherix. According to the firm, tagatose is now being used in 7-Eleven's Diet Pepsi Slurpee, and in Pasco Brands' Light and Tasty frozen juices. Targetting the burgeoning low-calorie, low-carb market, Arla said it expects a range of new products using tagatose to reach the market in 2004.