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Natural flavours and fragrances from novel bioprocesses

Natural flavour and fragrance compounds from novel bioprocesses. avdeev007/istockphoto.com

Research funded by BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board and EPSRC has resulted in the creation of valuable new ‘natural’ versions of compounds used by multi-billion-dollar global food flavour and fragrance industry.

The research was carried out by scientists from Durham University, led by Professor Rob Edwards, in partnership with Oxford Chemicals Ltd and Novacta Biosystems. During the project, Oxford Chemicals was bought out by international flavour and fragrance company Frutarom Ltd.

Data breakout

£2.8Bn Annual sales of the speciality chemicals sector, which includes flavour and fragrance compounds, in the UK
2 Number of companies in the world, including Frutarom, using biotechnology to produce these compounds
US$21.8Bn Value of global flavour and fragrance industry (£14.3Bn)

Previously, the only way to produce the compounds – ranging from sweet blackcurrant to savoury meat, vegetable, coffee and sweetcorn – was through chemical synthesis. By developing processes which harness novel enzymes to manufacture the flavour and fragrance compounds, Oxford Chemicals was able to ensure the compounds met new EU regulations for natural products.

The new European legislation allowed products to be labelled as natural if they were either isolated from a natural source, or manufactured via a biotechnology or fermentation processes. It meant that many of the aroma chemicals used by the European food manufacturing industry, which were produced by US companies, would no longer count as natural products. Hence the need for non-synthetic alternatives.

One enzyme in commercial production is now being used by the company to manufacture a natural version of a flavour compound called methyl mercaptan, which goes in savoury bases for vegetables, noodles and crisps.

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