Tekes, the national technology agency in Finland, is currently funding an investigation into the use of rare sugar components - previously deemed as unimportant by-products - as a useful raw material in food and pharmaceutical industries.
The project, undertaken by Danish ingredients company Danisco Sweeteners, aims to develop highly refined products from rare sugar components created as by-products in xylitol and xylose production. The raw materials will have potential use in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
"Xylitol and xylose production creates waste that has usually been returned to the raw material producer. This waste has earlier been used as animal feed, among others," said development manager Juho Jumppanen of Danisco Sweeteners.
"After having studied the composition of the by-products and waste, we realised that these rare sugar components could well be used as the raw material of some other products."
According to Jumppanen, the project linked to the use of sugar components was risky when it was launched five years ago because there was no clear market for the sugars created as by-products, and they did not have a commercial value.
Food industry companies were among the first users of the special sugars, which are now used in the flavour industry, for example to produce natural strawberry and pineapple flavours. They are also one component of the flavours used in the production of industrial convenience foods, such as pizzas, potato chips and other snacks.
When the special sugars production begun in 1998, there were three clients with a turnover of €235,000. In 2001, the figures reached 25 clients, and a turnover of €2.5 million. Danisco Sweeteners hopes to increase the turnover €5 million in 2002, and within three years to €8-€20 million.