Insight into my project with sugar replacers

When I was first told I had to write a blog, two thoughts shot through my head in quick succession. Relief at not having to write an essay, then oh no I can’t write an essay. After 3 years of essay training, suddenly being told “write whatever you want” is a daunting prospect to anyone.

I am working alongside Dr Terri Grassby looking into creating a new sugar replacer. Now my project is slightly different as it is being funded by a company so I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That said I can still talk a lot. Just not specifics.

Why do new sugar replacers need to be developed?

Almost 3.7million people have currently been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK with approximately 90% are Type 2. So, In April of 2018, the UK government introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks companies that contained over 5g per 100ml of sugar. This was a strategy designed to target childhood obesity. And to raise money to fund sports programs.

Due to this many soft drinks, companies opted to start reducing the sugar content and replacing the lost sweetness with sugar replacers. To ultimately save money due to this tax. There are several benefits of using replacers, however, the current ones available also have issues. Sugar itself has many desirable qualities that current replacers cannot truly mimic:

  • Texture, viscosity, solubility
  • Taste, caramelisation
  • Metabolism route, Thermal stability

None of the current sugar replacers can substitute ALL of these qualities.

As I said the current replacers have issues. For example, Aspartame (used in soft drinks) has a calorie content and is not heat stable so loses its sweetness when heated. Sucralose needs fillers to substitute sugar gram for gram when baking. This is where my project comes in to make a new and improved product. Another benefit is that my project makes the sugar replacer from the cell wall of waste plants. This utilises parts of the plant like the leaves that can’t be consumed by humans. Reducing the environmental burden.

The cell wall is a structural layer that surrounds each cell of the plant this is to protect the cell and to provide support. The cell wall is comprised of polysaccharides which are long chains that consist of a number of repeated units of sugar molecules called monosaccharides. There are many types of sugar monosaccharides with the most well-known being: Glucose, Fructose and Galactose.

Image 1: Depicting polysaccharide, disaccharide and monosaccharide sugars

As you can see from the image the polysaccharide is made up on the same monosaccharide (glucose) which is a cyclical compound being joined together in a chain.

There are different types of polysaccharides found in the cell wall, the ones we are looking at are called hemicellulose. There is a huge variety in hemicelluloses across plant type with many different combinations of sugar monomers. My project focuses on 5 different plant types so I will see varying results.

First, the plant cell wall is broken up to release the polysaccharide then this needs to be broken down into the monosaccharide sugar molecules. This process is done by a hydrolysis reaction. Which breaks apart the polysaccharide by adding water. This needs an enzyme to work quickly and effectively. An enzyme is a protein that acts as a biological catalyst to speed up a reaction. We have been coming up with a protocol to optimise the activity of this enzyme that we shall call X. This is important as we need to make a substantial quantity so this process needs to be optimised. We want the reaction to be quick but also keeping the concentration of X used to a minimum as this enzyme is expensive. Increasing the concentration would increase the speed and efficacy. The protocol aims to answer how much enzyme is needed to get good quantity within an appropriate time frame.

Going forward I aim to bulk up the manufacturing process and then test out the final product with baked goods to assess the quality of the replacer made.

Thank you for reading

Natalie x


Image 1: What are Polysaccharides? (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 7 January 2020).

In March 2016 the government announced that a tax on sugary soft drinks would be introduced in the UK from 2018. (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 7 January 2020).

UK, D., years, N. and possible, Y. (2020) Number of people living with diabetes doubles in twenty years, Diabetes UK. Available at: (Accessed: 7 January 2020).