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This Lab-Grown Sweetener Is Trying to Cure Our Sugar Addiction

As our sugar intake grows, an Israeli company claims to have invented a lab-grown substitute that could reduce sugar content in food by half and cut manufacturing processes.
Photo via Flickr user Vox Efx

As it makes its journey from plant to your salivating, double chocolate muffin-craving mouth, sugar tots up thousands of food-miles and is subject to a series of intense manufacturing processes.

The cane is grinded, juiced, boiled, and dried into raw sugar before being refined into the granules that we so carelessly drop into our coffee and tea. Despite this lengthy process, we're all more than happy to consume it by the spoonload—the average Briton wolfs down nearly 240 teaspoons of sugar a week.


READ MORE: This Is Why Sugar Is So Damn Addictive

It doesn't help, of course that sugar is so goddamn addictive and that it can be found in almost any food, including fruit. Even when you're on a health kick and turning to those high-intensity sweeteners with claims of containing less calories than the real stuff, it turns out they're not that great for you either.

A 2004 study of rats found that when the rodents were given low-calorie sweeteners, they tended to overeat. This was due to what the authors believe was a disconnect between the perceived taste of the sugar and the actual calorie intake. Last year, scientists furthered confirmed the news by suggesting that such sweeteners raise blood sugar levels and levels of obesity.

But fear not, sugar lover: DouxMatok may have hit the jackpot. The Israeli company has concocted a new, more natural substitute using "permitted food particles" with the potential to "disrupt" the sugar industry, according to its CEO Eran Baniel.

The particles of DouxMatok's sugar substitute are coated with glucose or sucrose, and through the magic of green chemistry, can reduce the sugar content by up to 50 percent, while enhancing sweetness.

Growing substitutes in labs also cuts the length of the journey between root and the sugary dusting on your Krispy Kreme. But what does Baniel think sets his creation apart from the myriad of artificial sweeteners already on the market?


"Mostly, the taste. It has a 100-percent sugar sensory profile, so no compromises on that," he says, referring to how the ingredient replicates sugar without leaving a bitter aftertaste lingering in your mouth. "And the price will be the same as sucrose [table sugar], or lower."

At a recent conference, a few hundred guinea pigs were invited to test the DouxMatok ingredient. Apparently no one could tell the difference between the product and standard sugar. Sounds promising. But then again, if it tastes so good you, will it be just as addictively bad for you?

Baniel refers me to a Powerpoint presentation, full of technical words and bold statements about the company's ambitions, which suggests that this is unlikely. He highlights that their product is more likely have a reduced impact on health, similar to stevia, which is regarded as the only "natural" sweetener.

It could also be one that works. Stevia has approval in the US from the Food and Drug Administration and according to a 2010 study, after a selection of obese and slim people ate a meal containing the substitute, they didn't overeat. Their blood sugar levels were lower than after eating a sugar-packed version of the same meal. DouxMatok hopes that the substitute could produce similar or even better results.

Ultimately, the question is whether consumers would really want such an ingredient in their food or if they prefer things as they are: unadulterated sugar-laden ecstasy.


The company says it is currently in talks with some big players in the confectionery and beverages industries, and though it's not yet available on the market, Baniel hopes their substitute will find its way into our products within the next few years.

Ultimately, the question is whether consumers would really want such an ingredient in their food or if they prefer things as they are: unadulterated, sugar-laden ecstasy.

A private nutritionist I approached for comment said she was unwilling to comment publicly, because "I don't know the full details, and I don't want to be seen endorsing something which might not live up to its claims."

In place of professional dietary comment, I asked a few self-confessed sugar addicts to give their verdict on Baniel's miracle creation.

"I try to avoid low-calorie sugar substitutes—they could be full of chemicals. I don't think we always know the long-term consequences of them. At least with sugar, your body responds in ways you can understand," says Jen, a freelance researcher. "If I eat too much sugar I will put on weight, and that is a fairly good indication to cut back. With substitutes you don't always get those warning signs."

Lee, a supermarket bakery worker, has struggled with his weight over a number of years—probably not helped by early morning binges on the previous day's doughnuts, which would otherwise be consigned to the skip—and has tried various diets.

READ MORE: Even Fruit Might Be Ruining Your Diet

"If they [DouxMatok] use it to replace those hidden sugars in bread, cereals, and ready meals, and introduce it into our diet subtly, it could do well," he says. "But using it to replace sugars in chocolate and fizzy drinks, that's a bit like alcohol-free beer; I don't see the point. That shit is bad for us, we all know that."

The World Health Organisation recently urged food producers to cut global sugar intake, placing a focus on consumer education and labelling. Along with a modicum of self-restraint, a sugar substitute with the potential to save lives and reduce production costs, could be just what the doctor ordered.

That is, if we can pull ourselves away from the real thing.