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FIIRO develops technology for extraction of natural sweetener

The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), has developed a technology for commercial extraction and optimisation of high-grade Thaumatin, a low-calorie sweetener and flavour modifier. The Director-General, FIIRO, Gloria Elemo, disclosed recently in Lagos during the International conference on alternative sweeteners, themed: “Harnessing of the economic potential of Thaumatin (Thaumatococcus danielli) in Africa.” Thaumatin is a low-calorie protein sweetener and flavor modifier extracted from the fruit of a West African plant, Thaumatococcus daniellii, and is natural with an intense sweetness. Elemo said the move is apt considering that the market for global high-intensity sweetener, both natural and synthetic, is estimated at 1.3 billion dollars in 2008 and is expected to quadruple by 2021. According to her, there is an increasingly large segment of the population with special dietary requirements containing non-nutritive sugar, such as diabetic patients. She said attention has shifted to sourcing of alternative sweeteners, mainly non-nutritive phytochemicals, from plants towards bridging the gap between production and consumption of sweeteners, sweetening and flavour enhancers. “Over the past few decades, non-nutritive sweeteners have been gaining significance and are expected to develop into a major source of high potency sweetener for the growing natural food and pharmaceutical markets. “There is a huge gap between sugar production and consumption in Nigeria, and this represents a serious problem since an estimated 2.5 million tonnes will be imported to meet local demand,” she said. The FIIRO boss noted that all available sweeteners for industrial and domestic use in the country are imported, adding that aside from their non-availability and high cost, they have negative health implications. “FIIRO as an organisation has over a long period been involved in herbal programmes and project for sweeteners, medicines, spices, condiments, nutraceuticals, foods and functional foods,” she said. Elemo said the institute ensures that only the best and safest ingredients are utilised in the development of its various products to spur industrialisation in the country. Also, Prof. Bidemi Kappo, University of Zuzuland, South Africa, said the conference is seeking partnership between Nigeria and South Africa to bring together some products that could be used to achieve a healthy population. He urged the Federal Government to partner stakeholders in the industry to deepen the commercialisation of the plant. “I hope that from the experience I bring from South Africa, we can come up with a product that we can take to the market which can actually ameliorate metabolic diseases in Nigeria and Africa at large,” he said. Mr Muhammed Musa, Director, Raw Materials Research Development Council (RMRDC), said the council has a scheme for strategic projects to develop the nation through industrial technology, adding that thaumatin is a focal point of the scheme. He said there is the need to have plantations to domesticate the plant, saying the council has put in place different initiatives for processing the plant for commercialisation. Joy Obakeye

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