L-tyrosine is currently used as an ingredient in dietary supplements and health foods for its purported ability to relieve symptoms of stress, as well as in enteral nutritional products like medical foods. The majority of L-tyrosine currently available is derived from human or animal sources.
Although there are some non-animal sources available, such as soybeans, according to Kyowa Hakko production is not sufficiently economical for large-scale availability. Since the Japanese company says its method is the first to be able to produce non-animal L-Tyrosine on a commercial scale, it is stealing a march in markets where origin is paramount.
The process was developed following the discovery of microorganisms "with superior characteristics for mass production of L-tyrosine", said the company, which then drew on its existing fermentation and purification know-how.
Now that it has the method, Kyowa Hakko is scaling-up production at its facility in Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan, and expects the ingredient to make its market debut some time in 2007.
It identified a gap in the market for the ingredient, as consumers demonstrate a preference for products from all non-animal sources in the wake of food scares like BSE - and formulators seek to cater to them.
Filling this gap will be Kyowa Hakko's initial aim, in the dietary supplement, health food and pharmaceutical markets. R&D is understood to be underway to open up uses for the ingredient.
A spokesperson for the company said that while some customers have a strict non-animal policy for ingredients in their products. Others, however, may be tempted to switch to a new vegetarian source if the pricing compares favourably with that of animal-derived material.
It is not yet clear how the price of Kyowa Hakko's new L-tyrosine will compare with other L-tyrosine products on the market.
According to a UK-based source, L-tyrosine the on-the-spot price for L-tyrosine is currently around £22 (c €33) per kilogram.
Frost and Sullivan estimates the overall European amino acid market to be worth to be worth US$1357.7m (c €1063.8m) in 2005, 60 per cent of which is accounted for by animal feed.
Food and beverages make up around 30 per cent of the value, and other uses, such as dietary supplements and pharma, make up the remaining 10 per cent.
By 2012 the market is expected to be worth $1944.3m (€1523.4m), and health uses will play a major part in this expansion. The development amino acid dimers (two units of amino acids linked by a peptide bond) makes them more suitable for use in foods since they are more stable in aqueous solutions and have superior solubility to than single amino acids.
Microencapsulation technology is also important for the development of the market, since it can prevent the degradation of the nutrients.
This is not the first time that Kyowa Hakko has gone after the non-animal market: it already offers L-hydroxyproline for this market segment, amongst "many others", said Yukinobu Kotani, president of the bio-chemicals business unit.
"This line up is a clear indication of our competitive edge in fermentation technologies," he said. "We will continue to supply fermented materials from non-animal sources to markets around the world, including materials that are now in test production."
The non-animal derived ingredients market has also been identified as a growth sector by other suppliers of nutrition ingredients such as DSM and BASF, both of which have a portfolio of vitamin formulations for vegetarian products.
BASF is also targeting companies that wish to make products suitable for all geographic markets, with ingredients that are not only vegetarian but also make a number of other claims, like kosher, halal, non-gluten, and non-GMO.