What are Sweet Proteins? Understanding the Future of Sweetness

What are Sweet Proteins? Understanding the Future of Sweetness

Whoever coined the phrase “sweeter than honey” clearly never met protein. Did you know, for instance, that there are certain plant-derived proteins out there up to 5,000 times sweeter than sugar?

To put it another way, if sugar is a single-story house, sweet proteins are like the Empire State Building.

But wait - what are sweet proteins, exactly? And what makes them so special?

We’ll get to what exactly these sweet proteins are and where they come from in a minute. But the important thing to remember for now is this—sweetness from protein is a total game-changer. For human health, for environmental sustainability, heck—even just for the pure intoxicating joy or your taste buds!

Sweet proteins are where it’s at. And soon, you'll be convinced to jump on the sweet protein journey. Without further ado, here’s a short and sweet breakdown of why sweet proteins are the way of the future.

What are sweet proteins?

We're not going to waste any time — what are sweet proteins, exactly?

Derived from about a dozen fruits primarily found in West Africa and other equatorial environments, sweet proteins are a class of proteins that deliver a sugar-like sweetness but none of the negative health impacts.

Sweet proteins are basically nature’s candy. They taste like sugar but digest like protein. And a little goes a long way. In fact, some sweet proteins clock in at several thousand times sweeter than sucrose on a weight basis.

How these sweet proteins work is fascinating. It turns out they bind to, and activate, the same taste receptors (T1R2-T1R3) on your tongue that sugar does. But again they’re not actually sugar.

Why do they do this? Well, as any Fern Gully fan will tell you—it’s because plants are smart. Evolutionarily speaking, these plants basically figured out that humans & monkeys will go apesh*t for sugar (so to speak). So, these plants evolved sweet proteins within their seeds and fruit to fool us into eating them so that we’d ingest them, digest them, and “enhance their dispersal.”

They spread their seed. We taste sugar without ingesting sugar. Yet another win-win in nature!

Oh, and because sweet proteins are so potent, you only need a tiny amount to get that sweet flavor you crave. For example, 1g of brazzein (a protein we’ll get to shortly) is equivalent to a whopping 2,000g OF SUGAR! (Cue Shocked Pikachu face.)

An image of chocolate and the oubli fruit that makes sweet proteins

The different types of sweet proteins

If you were under the impression that all sweet proteins were created equal, you are sorely mistaken. Sweet proteins are a family of various proteins, each offering its own unique benefits. Some of the most common sweet proteins include:

  • Thaumatin — 2,000-3,000x sweeter than sucrose, derived from the fruit of the katemfe plant in West Africa

  • Monellin — found in the fruit of the West African shrub, Dioscoreophyllum cumminsii (serendipity berry)

  • Miraculin — found in the berries of the Miracle Fruit plant, this one is kind of wacky; it’s not sweet in and of itself but binds to sweet receptors to cause sour-tasting acidic foods to be perceived as sweet. So, you can actually ingest miraculin and then fully chomp into a lemon without making a Warheads face because it’ll taste sweet. Cool, right?

  • Brazzein — from the oubli fruit (*cough* sound familiar?), found in West Africa, 500-2,000x sweeter than sucrose, heat-stable, and highly soluble

Health benefits of sweet proteins

The health benefits of sweet proteins are profound.

Bodybuilders might be wondering if sweet proteins beef up protein count. And the answer is: no, not really. The portion sizes are too small—these proteins are potent, remember! A little goes a longggggg way.

But! The way in which your body digests and metabolizes sweet proteins means they’ll have zero or neutral impact on your blood sugar, insulin levels, or gut microbiome. Plus, there are zero calories in sweet proteins compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar.

Brazzein, in particular—the protein found in the oubli fruit and used in Oobli chocolates—has been shown to have zero impact on blood sugar levels, no impact on the gut microbiome, and it digests like protein. It even has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties!

In short, sweet proteins like brazzein allow you to indulge in sweetness without sacrifice.

Are sweet proteins safe to eat?

Yes! There are no sour side effects of sweet proteins. Sweet proteins are safe to eat and digest just like any other dietary protein.

You can read the gargantuan 10,000-word safety report that confirms as much. Or, for everyone’s favorite internet acronym, here’s the TLDR:

“Oubli fruit sweet protein (brazzein) is considered safe for use as a sweetener in food and beverages, offering a new approach to sweetness for millions of people actively working to reduce sugar in their diets to improve their health.”

(Little legal sidebar: Here at Oobli, we follow the FDA's Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) standard under sections 201(s) and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. A GRAS Panel convened by Oobli, independently and critically evaluated all data and information, and concluded that Oubli fruit sweet protein (brazzein) is GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) for our use in conventional food and beverage products based on scientific procedures.)

How sweet proteins can transform our society for the better: America's sugar problem explained

Here’s the inconvenient truth: humans love sugar. It’s rooted deep in our DNA. We don’t just go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. We go hog-wild for Hershey’s, nuts for Nutella, downright crazy for corn syrup. We practically lose our minds over anything sweet.

And that’s because we literally lose our minds with sweets. Sugar addiction acts in the same way as drug addiction. It alters our brain chemistry, changes our behavior, and eventually prevents us from making sound, sugar-free decisions. (Ooo! Here’s an idea for a new Netflix show: Willy Wonka meets The Last of Us where the only survivors of the zombie-sugar apocalypse are folks who opted for sweet proteins back in the day instead of regular sugar.… Okay fine—maybe still needs some workshopping.)

Anyway, it’s true that we’re biologically designed to crave sugar. But our bodies were simply never prepared for just how much sugar is so readily abundant in modern-day diets.

Today, more than 40% of Americans struggle with obesity. And more than 140 million have type-2 diabetes or prediabetes. In the least surprising correlation of all time, the average American also consumes a whopping 17 teaspoons of sugar per day (three times the recommended daily amount!). That averages out to about one pound of sugar per week, or 60 lbs per year.

It’s worth stating again: THIS ISN’T OUR FAULT. Sugary calories were once hugely important forms of energy for our ancestors. Unfortunately, industrial and processed food has a way of moving at the speed of sound, while human biology moves more like the speed of sloth. We just couldn’t keep pace with the rapidity with which sugar became rampantly available.

That’s why sweet proteins represent such a golden opportunity for the future. If we can collectively cut down on our overconsumption of sugar—without even making taste sacrifices!—then our public health stands to gain so much.

No wonder leading scientific journals are beginning to refer to sweet proteins as “the promising sugar replacer of the future.”

Sweet proteins aren't just better for you - they're better for the planet

Here’s the thing: sugar doesn’t just wreak havoc on your body. It can damage the planet too.

According to the World Wildlife Fund: “More than 145 million tons of sugar is produced per year in about 120 countries. The cultivation of sugar produces environmental impacts such as the loss of natural habitats, intensive use of water, heavy use of agrochemicals, discharge and runoff of polluted effluent, and air pollution. This leads to the degradation of wildlife, soil, air, and water where sugar is produced and of downstream ecosystems.”

The great thing about sweet proteins? (Well, another great thing, we should say.) They can be produced without damaging the planet. In fact, they can be produced without any land at all. Through the practice of precision fermentation, we can create sweet proteins that are eco-friendly and nature-identical.

“Precision fermentation” may sound like spooky SciFi, but it’s anything but. This well-established method has been around for decades and is essentially the same sort of process involved in producing wine, beer, or cheese.

Explained to a fifth grader: You have a yeast, you feed it sugar, it ferments that sugar, you manipulate the protein strain for the output you want, then boom—you have a nature-identical version of the plant as it is in nature but without having to cultivate huge swathes of land to harvest it.

Did you know, for instance, that even just a 1% reduction in sugar cane production would result in 650,000 acres of land saved? By fermenting sweet proteins rather than growing more sugar cane, we can dramatically reduce the amount of precious ecosystem land dedicated to sugar crop farming.

Delicious and sustainable sweets? Yes, please.

Protein: the sweet spot for alternative sweeteners

For years, highly refined sugar was all we had. Then came alternative sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. According to the NCBI, these can actually be just as bad for your health causing a “negative effect on blood glucose.”

On paper, certain sugar alcohols sound great (fewer calories, naturally found in fruits, etc.). But in practice, these “natural sweeteners” also come loaded with some not so sweet side effects. The big one you’ve probably heard of recently is erythritol. A bombshell new study suggests “consuming erythritol can increase blood clot formation, which could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.” Further studies are warranted, but still. Not exactly something you want to gamble with!

What all of these sweeteners have in common—sugar, artificial sweeteners, natural sugar alcohols—is this: they’re small molecules. This makes them easily ingestible in the gastrointestinal tract and more immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. Their small size makes it easier to penetrate cell membranes as they travel throughout the body.

Sweet proteins on the other hand are large molecules. And large molecules are more complex and composed of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of amino acids, making them more difficult to absorb.

Basically, most sweeteners move through your body too quickly, causing blood sugar spikes and worse. Proteins digest more slowly, leaving your energy levels stable and your gut microbiome balanced.

Wrapping up our beginner's guide to the sweet science of sweet proteins

In summary, what are sweet proteins? To put it simply, these are the key to unlocking flavorful, health-conscious, guilt-free snacking and drinking. They're everything you love about sugar with none of the downsides.

When the sweetness of sugar meets the power of protein, everybody wins - not just bodybuilders. Anyone who wants to prioritize their health while remaining sane and satisfying their sweet tooth should add these to their diet regimen.

And in considering what a difference they could make for our planet, empowering our society to transition away from the extensive sugar production that is slowly but surely destroying our lands? There is clearly a lot to be excited about as it pertains to sweet proteins. That's why the hype around them has skyrocketed recently.

But, the truth is that sweet proteins aren’t some new fad. They’ve been around for thousands of years. They’ve tantalized tastebuds and nourished bodies since time immemorial. And our amazing Oobli tech team figured out how to produce sweet proteins so they can be widely available for anyone to try them.

And speaking of now, with delicious Oobli chocolates (and other super exciting products coming later this year!), now you can tap the untapped potential of sweet proteins in our everyday lives.

Our belief is that sweetness should enrich our bodies the same way it nourishes our souls. You shouldn't have to choose between tantalizing taste, healthy snacking, and eco-friendly food. You can have your cake and eat it too - as long as it's carefully crafted with sweet proteins!

Using groundbreaking precision fermentation, we're excited to be the first company to offer sweet protein. And at this point, it's time to transform your health and happiness for the better simultaneously. Get your sweet protein chocolate bars today!

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