Food & Agriculture
When eaten alone, the bright red berries of the West African plant, the Miracle Fruit, are flavorless and bland. But chew them up with a swig of lemon juice, and you’d think you’re drinking lemonade. In fact, mixing these berries with anything acidic will make the typically sour ingredient – a lemon, a grapefruit, a lime – taste surprisingly sweet. What causes this flavor metamorphosis? A protein called miraculin. “Miraculin is something that nature invented,” says Joywell Foods Operations Manager, Ken Graham.
In an effort to bring natural, healthier sweeteners to the public, Joywell Foods isolates plant-produced sweeteners like miraculin to use as substitutes for sugar and artificial sweeteners in foods. A high sugar diet is associated with more than just weight gain. Consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to chronic health conditions including diabetes, liver disease, and even heart disease. And artificial sweeteners fare no better because our bodies don’t quite know how to handle them.
But when it comes to sweeteners produced by nature, Graham says, “you're taking something that your body knows how to deal with, which is essentially zero calories, but either tricks or mimics, depending on what words you want to use, your tongue to make it taste sweet.”
Isolating natural sweeteners, however, is no easy task. Joywell produces plant-based sweeteners by genetically engineering yeast to make the sweeteners in large quantities. “Convincing yeast to make a plant protein can be difficult because plants do all these things called post translational modifications,” Graham says. To get the yeast to produce the same plant sweeteners takes a great amount of skill and experimentation.
Since the company started in 2014, they have grown in size and evolved to focus on purifying even more natural sweeteners. “We're picking up pace,” Graham said. “We've hired more people, and with more people, comes more supplies.”
To make their ordering system more efficient, Joywell has taken advantage of Quartzy’s new integration with QuickBooks, which Graham found has saved his team hours of work per week. The Joywell scientists, in particular, are big fans of the more streamlined ordering process of lab supplies in Quartzy. “It remembers what you've bought,” Graham says. “That's a huge thing for them.”
“They come from the lab, and go ‘here, try this!’” Graham laughs, miming the excited Joywell scientists. Indulging them, Graham says that when he tried the plant-derived mixture from the lab, “it made water taste sweet – cloying sweet, like saturated sugar water.”
A more efficient use of time in the lab means a faster production and isolation of new natural sweeteners. Graham has seen this beneficial effect on productivity first hand. “They come from the lab, and go ‘here, try this!’” Graham laughs, miming the excited Joywell scientists. Indulging them, Graham says that when he tried the plant-derived mixture from the lab, “it made water taste sweet – cloying sweet, like saturated sugar water.”
While that particular sweetener might not be ready for public consumption just yet, a little more tinkering to isolate pure natural sweeteners will surely have a huge impact on improving human health. With their streamlined lab management system and efficient workflow, Joywell Foods is primed to revolutionize the sweetener industry – one taste test at a time.