The Kraft Heinz Company, the food industry powerhouse whose products are found in 98% of American households, set itself some ambitious Environmental, Social and Governance goals to do the right thing for consumers and for the environment. One of those goals is to reduce the total sugar in its products by more than 60 million pounds by 2025. But reducing sugar isn’t as simple as swapping sucrose for Splenda®. Beyond providing sweetness, sugar performs a host of other duties: it produces the browning on baked goods; it helps thicken spreads like jam and preserves; it creates an acidic environment to reduce food spoilage; and it produces a satisfying mouthfeel.
For help solving that problem, Kraft Heinz turned to the innovative minds at the Wyss Institute in 2018, asking if we could help create a new, sugar-free sweetener that replicated the real thing’s beneficial properties. Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. responded to that question with another question: was creating a substitute for sugar really the best approach, or would the company ideally want to be able to use sugar but somehow mitigate its negative effects on health?
Two years of cross-disciplinary research at the Wyss Institute in close collaboration with Kraft Heinz produced a novel enzymatic product inspired by enzymes naturally found in plants, which convert sugar to fiber as they grow. The enzyme is encapsulated in a special coating that protects it during food manufacturing processes, and is designed to break open only when the enzyme reaches the human intestine. There, it converts sugar from the food into prebiotic fiber, reducing the amount of sugar absorbed into the bloodstream and improving gut health at the same time. Crucially, the product can be incorporated into existing food recipes without modifying their sugar content.
The Wyss team is now testing how the enzyme product impacts the body’s glycemic response to sugar, which, if improved, could help diabetics eat a wider variety of foods that they love.