When we bite into a cookie, roughly a quarter of the sugar in it never connects to any receptor inside our mouths, but instead directly hits the digestive track.
DouxMatok, an Israeli food innovation company, is using that information to offer a unique answer to a problem every person has: how to eat sweets without paying in lard or cavities.
The patent was invented by Avraham Baniel and the company that puts it in the market, DouxMatok, is run by his son Eran. The young Baniel (his father recently celebrated his 100th birthday) got a piece of advice from the late mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek after he produced an Israeli-Palestinian production of Romeo and Juliet in the late 1990s. “He told me: ‘You are already used to dealing with artists,’” Baniel told The Jerusalem Post, “‘they are a lot like entrepreneurs, spoiled and wonderful.”
“‘If you take the skills you gained by working with artists and work with that group,’” the late mayor informed Baniel, “‘you will be in the same line of work, but your banker will be a lot merrier.’”
Since 2014, the father and son had been hard at work offering to the global market Incredo. Made from plain white sugar, Incredo employs silica in a special process which, if we employ a metaphor, “shakes” the way a sugar crystal is built.
This means that more Incredo sugar particles “connect” with a receptor in the human mouth than plain sugar. Since more particles connect, less sugar is needed, sometimes even 40% less. Silica (also needed to create sand) has no caloric value because, like salt, it does not burn.
Humans breathe to live, and because oxygen is needed to burn what we eat to produce heat, a calorie measures how much heat foods can produce in a healthy adult. Butter, for example, burns a lot better than a carrot, which is why it is a high-calorie food. Almost all humans crave sweet foods as they are normally fantastic fuel for us. This is also why we dress a salad with olive oil (fat). Few humans crave raw vegetables.
Plain white sugar might be cheap, but when a soda company makes millions of cans per day, saving 40% of its cost adds up. However, things are not so simple.
Those 25% of untasted sugar from that cookie are not without a purpose. We might not be able to taste it, but nature abhors a vacuum, behind each cake, syrup, or morning cereal is a lifetime of trial and error used to make sure the dish is just the right kind of baked brown, or crunchy or that it pours well out of the bottle. In the food industry, sugar deals with many other important thing besides flavor.
In a lab, a team of scientists, among them researcher Lihi Ozery, examine Incredo crystals to see their shapes. The dark shapes are pretty and abstruse, much like a human cell examined under a powerful microscope.
When I ask what is the meaning of this or that shape I am told, politely, that these are trade secrets. Someone with Ozery’s scientific know-how is able to predict from the shape of the crystal how it would react to the conditions in a baking oven or boiling water. This theoretical model is priceless, because it means DouxMatok can do more than offer a large candy-making company a way to cut down on sugar. It can also tell it how to do so in a way that will not damage its product. “If I had your scientific training, would I be able to figure out what the shapes mean?” I ask her. “Maybe,” she smiles.
In another part of the labs the team bakes, tray after tray of cookies. This might sound like a dream job for some, but each day the team conducts three tasting rounds and are taught how to be professionals about it. This is a science, and those who practice it do not go by with just “yummy”.
“We deal with ‘dry’ products,” Vice President of Business Development Liat Cinamon explains, “which means products that melt when they meet human saliva.” This means Incredo is currently tested on things like cookies, not soda.
If less sugar is introduced to the product, the heavy lifting it does needs to be taken up by fiber or protein, which are pricier. Different companies explore sugar reduction due to different motives. Some want to produce healthier foods and cater to an ever larger group of consumers who wish to cut down on sugar. Or simply refuse to buy products with a red sticker warning them of the sugar or fat in them. Some firms want to reduce costs.
“Eventually we want to reach an 80/20 situation,” Cinamon tells the Post, “meaning, we will come to the client with 80% of the solution but will be able to also offer a 20% adaptation to their special needs.”
Each company wishes to protect its own brand and to keep its sales up in a specific market. Most people are conditioned from birth to the particular foods where they live. For example, the BBC program QI once discussed how American chocolate, from an English point of view, tastes like vomit.
This is due to American chocolate factories using butyric acid in the mix.
American consumers are so used to this taste, that it is currently added even if there is no practical reason for it (it helps keep milk from going bad on the road from the dairy farm to the factory).
Changing foods is hard to swallow. Nestle, one of the largest food companies in the world, scraped Hollow Sugar this year since people did not buy it, according to the BBC.
What Nestle tried to do was to “hollow out” the inside of the sugar crystal to reduce sugar levels in its products, it did not work.
“We can help the client reduce his or her overconsumption and, at the same bite, give him or her a tasty nutritional value,” DouxMatok CEO Eran Baniel said.
“Children are not going to stop wanting sugar and they accept no substitutes,” he pointed out. Noting that current obesity rates among children and young adults in the West, especially after a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, is alarming.
“What is needed is to reduce sugar – with sugar,” he said.