By Tyler Irving
Posted October 2011
Canadians love maple syrup, but the associated sugar rush can be hazardous to one’s health, especially for those living with diabetes or other metabolic disorders. But thanks to some clever chemical engineering, a new maple syrup product may soon alleviate those concerns.
The project is a collaboration between the National Research Council, the University of Guelph Kemptville Campus and Natunola Health Inc., an Ottawa-based supplier of botanical ingredients for both cosmetics and food. The idea was to use natural enzymes to convert sucrose - the main sugar component of maple syrup - to its structural isomer, isomaltulose. Because it has a different shape than sucrose, isomaltulose is not as readily digested by human enzymes, leading to a slower release of sugar into the blood stream and eliminating spikes in blood glucose.
In order to convert the sugars, Wie Zou and his team at the NRC relied on two species of bacteria, Erwinia rhapontici and Protaminobacter rubrum. These plant pathogens, harmless to humans, produce enzymes that convert sucrose into isomaltulose. The team immobilized these species in gels made of calcium alginate or carageenan and placed them in a bioreactor with concentrated maple sap from the sugar bush at Kemptville Campus. The enzymes did the conversion efficiently and worked even when the bacteria themselves were killed before inoculation. The altered sap was then boiled into syrup in the traditional way.
Zou says the new product tastes great. “We made some cookies, butter, maple candy, all kinds of things. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.” There are still a few hurdles to jump, including approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and tests to determine the glycemic index (GI), a measure of how fast the body metabolizes the sugars in a given food. This past May, Natunola received a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to help with this process and Zou is hopeful that consumers can be enjoying new, low-GI maple products by 2012.
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