Low calorie sweetener tagatose could soon hit European supermarket shelves in a host of formulations as the UK's food agency clears the way for Europe-wide approval.
The Food Standards Agency signed off the169-page dossier in August, accepting that the ingredient made from milk sugar lactose met the criteria for a novel foods application.
Now it is the turn of the twenty-four other member states to decide the fate of the sweetener, promoted for its low-cariogenicity, prebiotic activity, and low glycaemic impact.
"We estimate European approval by the first quarter of next year," Mads Vigh, commercial director of tagatose at Arla Foods tells FoodNavigator.com.
Produced through a joint venture of Denmark's Arla Foods and Germany's Nordzucker, the sweetener is already approved and enjoying gains in major markets, such as the US since 2003 and Australia from 2004.
Last year the US' number one retailer Walmart, eager at the time to cash in on the now waning low-carbohydrate fad, said it would emblazon the Gaio tagatose brand logo on the packaging of a new range of juices.
Further boosting market presence, last week Arla learnt that its tooth-friendly tagatose had gained approval in Brazil.
The 25 member states have 60 days to raise queries about the tagatose dossier. At the end of this time, Arla will individually document and respond to each question.
If any critical issues are raised that are unsatisified by Arla's response, the European Commission will address the query.
D-tagatose is a sugar (monosaccharide) that occurs naturally in small amounts in heat-treated dairy products, where it is formed from galactose by isomerisation.
The "non-cariogenicity, prebiotic activity, low glycaemic impact and reduced energy value of D-tagatose are the main reasons for its use in sweet tasting foods," claims Arla in the novel foods application.
Tagatose has not been consumed to date in significant amounts in the EU, therefore it is regarded as a novel food.
Since it is produced at a commercial scale from galactose, a component of lactose, by a one-step chemical isomerisation it complies with the definition of a novel food, adds the producer.
Production capacity for tagatose is currently at about 1200 tonnes but the firm said it is currently investigating options to provide a higher output platform.
Vigh suggests that because of the synergies identified between tagatose and high intensity sweeteners, food makers could also cut their quantities of the higher priced intense sweeteners.
Per pound high intensity sweeteners are considerably more expensive than tagatose (about $2.50 per pound), although food formulators use less in their recipes.
If approved, food formulations integrating tagatose for the European market are likely to maximise on recent science that highlights the ingredient's slow glycaemic (GI) response, an index increasingly used by dieters as a form of carbohydrate control.
A low GI food will cause a small rise in blood sugar levels, whereas a higher GI food may trigger a large increase.
In addition, Arla is optimistic that its low cal sweetener about three times the price of sugar can bring cost savings to food manufacturers in their flavour formulations.
SweetGredients, the joint venture of Arla Foods and Nordzucker, recently declared it was working with the flavour house Symrise to design specific flavour and tagatose blends.
They believe the systems could reduce quantities of more expensive flavours.
Vigh said new findings suggest tagatose has the ability to improve a flavour's profile.
"In initial studies we found that when we added tagatose to mint flavours the profile was boosted considerably," he says.
The low calorie bulk sweetener about three times the price of sugar can be added to flavour systems in quantities at less than 1 per cent.
In certain confectionery flavour systems on trial the tagatose addition has cut total system costs from between 5 and 10 per cent, claims SweetGredients.