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Taste tipped to top the agenda at Stevia World Europe

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 28-Sep-2009

Ahead of the Stevia World Europe conference in Frankfurt in November, business research firm KnowGenix has compiled a report detailing the quality, sustainability and taste issues that stevia still faces.

There has been a great deal of excitement about stevia and its high purity component Reb A since the US Food and Drug Administration said it considers the zero-calorie, natural sweetener to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe) last December. Now Europe is opening up to stevia, with France having approved the use of Reb A at 97 percent or above earlier this month, and KnowGenix predicts that EU-wide regulatory approval for stevia at 95 percent steviol glycosides with happen by Q2 2011.

The report, Stevia as a Mainstream Sweetener! Emerging Sustainability & Market Challenges, says that flavour is perhaps the biggest challenge to mainstream acceptability of the sweetener, as there are often still problems with a lingering aftertaste, which can be bitter or liquorice-like.

However, many flavour companies have come forward with a range of ‘toolboxes’ to deal with this, including flavour maskers, bitter blockers and sweetness enhancers, while others say that taste issues come down to the purity and the amount of Reb A being used.

“There is a need to speed up the development of flavouring and fragrance technologies. Food and beverage companies need to launch new products utilizing stevia for the markets to develop,” it said.

Regional preferences

The report also highlights the differences in regional taste preferences for sweeteners and the need for flavour companies to develop local solutions in tune with those tastes.

“European consumers prefer a sweetness profile similar to sucralose, whereas US consumers prefer the sweetness of high fructose corn syrup,” it said. “As new product launches are being planned, masking flavours are likely to be the key ingredients deciding the market acceptability of stevia products.”

The report also said that it is crucial for companies to rationalize the pricing of stevia, in order to ensure market success.

The other main concerns are ensuring a reliable supply of stevia with high proportions of steviol glycosides, access to extraction and refining technology, pricing, and supply chain management.

Stevia World Europe takes place in Frankfurt on November 18.

The full KnowGenix report can be accessed online here .