What is thaumatin?

Thaumatin is a sweetener of natural origin with an outstanding sweetness. But it is also an excellent flavour enhancer. In combination with steviol glycosides, it is something quite unique. Let's explore it further!

13 October 2020 •

Thaumatin is a super-sweet­en­ing sweet­en­er of nat­ur­al ori­gin that is extract­ed from the plant Katemfe. But it is as a flavour enhancer that thau­matin shows its true qualities.

A brief introduction

Thaumatin is an umbrel­la term for the pro­teins extract­ed from the plant Katemfe (Thaumatococcusdaniel­lii). Katemfe is a shrub with light pur­ple flow­ers that can grow about 3–4 meters tall. Thaumatin is extract­ed from the seed coat in the red tri­an­gu­lar fruit that grows at the root of the Katemfe bush.

The largest and sweet­est thau­matin pro­teins are called thau­matin I respec­tive­ly thau­matin II. These two do not dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly as the struc­ture of amino acids is similar.

The Katemfe plant grows nat­u­ral­ly in the West African rain­for­est. The plant is found in Ghana, Togo and Sierra Leone, among others.

Popular among the indigenous people

For cen­turies, the fruit of the katemfe plant has been used as a sweet­en­er by the West African peo­ple. In 1839, the English army sur­geon and botanist WF Daniell brought the fruit to England. The sweet­ness in the fruit had remained when he returned, despite the long jour­ney. Daniell lat­er pub­lished an arti­cle on thau­matin in a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal journal.

But it would not be until the 1970s before researchers began to ful­ly inves­ti­gate thau­matin and its prop­er­ties and com­mer­cial­iza­tion could begin. Since 1979, thau­matin has been an approved ingre­di­ent in Japan. Then fol­lowed, among oth­ers, Great Britain and Australia.

In the EU, thau­matin is approved part­ly as a flavour enhancer and part­ly as a sweet­en­er. The des­ig­na­tion is E957.

Areas of use

As a flavour enhancer, it can be used in dairy prod­ucts, flavoured drinks and in cer­tain chew­ing gums, among oth­er things. In sauces and snacks with uma­mi and spice flavours, thau­matin can enhance these flavours.

As a sweet­en­er, we can find it in jams, mar­malades, choco­late prod­ucts, break­fast cere­als and var­i­ous forms of dec­o­ra­tions and fill­ings, among oth­er things.

But thau­matin can also mask bit­ter­ness and cre­ate syn­er­gy effects with oth­er sweet­en­ers. Let’s return to that in a bit.

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Super sweet

Thaumatin is one of the sweet­est sub­stances known to man, it is 2000–3000 times sweet­er than reg­u­lar sug­ar in nor­mal use.

Thaumatin con­tains 4 kcal per gram, but because it is so potent, very small dos­es are need­ed. This means that thau­matin is in prac­tice a calo­rie-free ingre­di­ent. Thaumatin is digest­ed by the body just like any oth­er protein.

Sweet but slow

The taste is sweet but the onset is slow; it may take sev­er­al sec­onds. In addi­tion, thau­matin leaves a liquorice-like after­taste. This means that thau­matin on its own does not reach all the way as a sweet­en­er. However, it can be an excel­lent com­ple­ment to oth­er sweeteners.

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A proper masking agent

When it comes to mask­ing metal­lic and bit­ter flavours, thau­matin can come in handy. The sweet­en­er sac­cha­rin has a metal­lic taste that thau­matin can damp­en. The bit­ter­ness from cit­rus fruits can also be cured by thaumatin.

A good exam­ple of when thau­matin real­ly comes into its own is when it is com­bined with ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides. Steviol gly­co­sides are a sweet­en­er of nat­ur­al ori­gin that are extract­ed from the ste­via plant. Steviol gly­co­sides often car­ry a cer­tain bit­ter­ness and liquorice-like after­taste (in addi­tion to new vari­eties such as Reb M).

A happy meeting

Separately, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides and thau­matin have a super sweet taste with some bit­ter­ness, liquorice-like after­taste and a long after­taste. You may believe that it will only be more of that prod­uct if you com­bine these sweet­en­ers with each other.

But that will not be the case at all. In fact, they mask each oth­er, and the bit­ter­ness and liquorice taste is sub­dued. And as an icing on the cake, thau­matin can improve the inten­si­ty of the sweet­ness of ste­vi­ol glycosides.

However, com­bin­ing ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides with thau­matin require a del­i­cate hand touch. Due to its high sweet­ness, it places high demands on dos­ing and mix­ing technique.

Read more

Want to learn more about ste­via and ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides? Then take a look at these articles:

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