Gingerbread. Candy canes. Eggnog. Sufganiyot. Turrón. Bûche de Noël. Allahabadi cake. Knäck. Bibingka. Mshabbak. No matter where in the world you’re from, the most beloved holiday treats have one thing in common: sugar. No wonder winter weight gain has so many of us scurrying to the gym in January.
An ever-growing list of sugar substitutes seeks to address the problem. There are the old standbys, like aspartame and saccharine, and newer players, such as sucralose (Splenda) and stevia. But most sugar substitutes have significant aftertastes, as well as physical characteristics that make them difficult to use in cooking. Plus, although commercially available sweeteners are generally recognized as safe, many consumers worry about consuming “unnatural” ingredients.
These are the problems an Israeli startup is hoping to address with a new process that enhances the sweetness of sugar itself, enabling consumers to simply use less.
“How can we take sugar, help people experience sugar as sweeter than sugar, but keep it as sugar?” asks Eran Baniel, the CEO of DouxMatok.
The technology behind DouxMatok was created by Baniel’s father, 97-year-old Avraham Baniel, who may well hold the title for world’s oldest startup co-founder. Born in Poland, he trained as a research chemist in France and in pre-Israel Palestine. In the later years of his career, he worked as a consultant with Tate & Lyle, a multinational agribusiness focused on sugar and sugar products. After retiring at the age of 90, the elder Baniel continued to tinker with sugars, eventually coming up with the process for DouxMatok, whose name means “double sweet” in Hebrew.
DouxMatok works by surrounding an inert mineral particle with sugar molecules. The coated particles mean there’s more sweet surface area to hit the tongue’s taste receptors, so less sugar can be used. The micron-size particles are already approved for food uses.
“The whole process is really a transport process,” Baniel says. “When the receptor sees a lot of sugar molecules, it gives the signal to the brain ‘wow it’s sweet!’”
The process can enhance the sweetness of any type of sugar—sucrose (table sugar), glucose, xylitol (a sugar alcohol commonly used as a sweetener in chewing gum), high fructose corn syrup and others. Depending on how the sugar is used (in baking, candy-making, etc.), the sweetness can be enhanced between 30 and 100 percent. According to Baniel, taste tests have shown DouxMatok-enhanced sucrose tastes identical to regular table sugar.
“I give you the DouxMatok sugar, and rather than use two spoons of sugar with your morning coffee, you can use one,” Baniel says. “The difference is huge in terms of calorie and sugar consumption.”
Using DouxMatok-enhanced sugar in cooking presents some challenges though. Depending on the recipe, the product may need to be added at a different time in the cooking process than ordinary sugar in order to regulate taste and texture. Since cooks need less DouxMatok than ordinary sugar, they may need to increase other ingredients to maintain volume.
DouxMatok will likely be incorporated into commercial food products, including jams, sauces, cake mixes and juices before it’s available directly to the consumer. Baniel expects to see some of these products on the shelves in various countries, including the U.S., within the next 18 months or so. He says prices should be comparable to ordinary sugar.
So perhaps by the holiday season of 2017, you’ll be enjoying some DouxMatok-sweetened gingerbread (or turrón, or sufganiyot, or bibingka).