Is OptiBiotix’s prebiotic fibre a contender to topple sugar’s standing?

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Sugar

The development of a viable low calorie prebiotic sweetener that disrupts the industry’s use of sugar took another step forward after OptiBiotix Health revealed details of its latest taste study.

In an independent analysis, carried out by the Flavour and Sensory Science Centre at the University of Reading, the prebiotic fibre was recognised as a potential replacement for high-calorie sugar in food and beverage products.

"We are pleased with the results of this study which showed OptiBiotix's sweet oligosaccharide had the highest sweetness and was low in off-flavours when compared to a wide range of existing sugars and prebiotics,” ​said Stephen O'Hara, CEO of OptiBiotix.

“With growing concerns over the impact on health of traditional sugars and artificial sweeteners, the ability to develop sweet functional fibres puts OptiBiotix at the forefront of product development in this area of growing industry and commercial interest."

The oligosaccharide’s gut microbiome functionality remains another attribute reported by this latest study – part of a research programme that focuses on developing sweet natural healthy fibres which are not digested in the human gut, and are hence calorie free.

The benefits of prebiotic fibres have been noted by health food manufacturers eager to capitalise on the wealth of gut health knowledge and its strong links to neurological function and conditions.

Beneo’s Orafti inulin and oliogofructose are perhaps the best known. With these two ingredients manufacturers can claim a 13.5 European health label for improved blood glucose management.

Orafti Inulin allows two 13.5 European health claims on the product packaging: "promotes digestive health​​"​ and "lowers blood glucose rise​​".

Other prebiotic fibre ingredients include Nutriose from Roquette, Tereos’ Actilight fibre, Olygose’s oligosaccharide and chicory root fibres produced by Sensus and Cosucra-Group Warcoing.

Study details

In this latest piece of research eight samples were presented to a panel of 11 who rated each sample’s attributes compared to sucrose.

The tests showed out of the 11 attributes rated, eight were significantly different between samples. The most substantial differences were in sweet taste, strength of off-flavour and sweet after taste.

In addition, the oligosaccharide was significantly sweeter than all other samples and low in all off-flavours such as bitterness, sourness, staleness, saltiness.

“This programme is looking at a different perspective,” ​explained O’Hara. “Here, we use bacteria to create a long oligosaccharide chain. So the bacteria typically breakdown complex sugars into simple ones.  They use this as fuel for growth.  

“We’ve turned that process round. So the bacteria takes simple sugars to produce longer chain sugars. By using different substrates and bacteria, we can actually change the sweetness of that oligosaccharide chain.

“Because this chain is reasonably long it is classified as a fibre. So what we’ve created is a sweet fibre. These fibres are digested by bacteria in the gut changing the microbiome and its diversity.

“So if we were to put this fibre into a Mars Bar for example, the nutritional label would indicate ‘green’ for fibre and ‘green’ for sugar.”

HIS programme

Along with its work in developing sweet natural healthy fibres, OptiBiotix Health, a life sciences firm developing compounds to tackle obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes, are currently involved in another SweetBiotix development programme.

This involves the development of natural high intensity sweeteners (HIS) with improved flavour profile and microbiome modulating functionality.

OptiBiotix announced back in July 11th 2017 that it had succeeded in developing customised oligosaccharides demonstrating good flavour profile and sweetness of between 140X and 223X that of sucrose at equivalent concentrations.

“We’re adding functionality to these sweeteners,”​ said O’Hara. “We’re taking some of the steviosides and the mogrosides, which come from monkfruit and we’re adding the prebiotic oligosaccharides.

“While we have the sweetness, more importantly we don’t have the aftertaste that you have with Stevia so you don’t have the after effects.”

O’Hara explained that at this moment in time the company were not pursuing any health claims for the time being, as he cited the ‘confused’ regulatory environment.

“What we’re trying to do now is to create a product that has a sweetness and is a fibre,”​ he explained. “I think that this in the early stages will be sufficient to attract interest.”

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