DouxMatok CEO and Co-Founder Eran Baniel explains how to make a little bit of sugar go a long way
Hi Eran, can you tell me the story behind DouxMatok?
The history of DouxMatok is linked to a period during the second world war and directly after. At this time, sugar was rationed like many other ingredients, and my father, who is now over 100 years old and one of Israel’s most senior scientists, was then a young scientist. His friend, a teacher in an elementary school, came to visit him one day and explained that the kids in school were craving sugar, and were finding it hard to concentrate, so she was looking for a way to satisfy this craving by making a little sugar go a long way. He found that adding a little sugar to a viscous solution makes it taste much sweeter than if you were to add it to the same amount of water and he thought “I must come back to this sometime”.
Many years later, my father was a consultant to Tate and Lyle, and as such he was involved in the development of the sugar substitute Splenda®, and although Splenda® had a better taste than some of the artificial sweeteners it became clear that children would not consume a sugar-substitute or sweetened product – the whole experience of taste and texture was not for them.
That’s when he remembered the issue the teacher had faced, and he came to me and asked me to help him with an idea. So, we took the idea and we made a small improvised sample of how he thought this might work and we took it to Strauss (who are now one of our partners in EIT Food projects), and we asked them what they thought about it. They tasted it and then they said, “listen guys, there are two problems of the food and beverage industry: one is sugar and the other is salt, whoever can resolve the one or the both, is king!” The next day I went and incorporated DouxMatok.
So how do you make a little bit of sugar go a long way?
Ok, so when you take a bite into a cake, over 80% of the sugar in the cake will never see a sweet receptor, meaning that the vast majority of the sugar is just wasted from a taste perspective.
Wow! So where does this extra sugar go then?
It goes exactly where you don’t want it – it goes straight to your digestive system. Only about 20% will actually see a receptor. So, what we did was to look at changing the perception of sweetness whilst still using sugar. Essentially, we add the sugars to tiny molecules, creating clusters of sugar, and when those clusters are put into, say, a cake, and you take a bite, it is enough that a few of those clusters hit the receptors. When those clusters get to the receptors, they hold on for longer, so the sweetness you get is a lingering, satisfying sugar sweetness. All with 50% less sugar! This means you need less in order to perceive more: you are able to satisfy taste, but reduce the sugar going into the digestive system.
That’s fascinating. So how did your work lead you to getting involved with EIT Food?
Three years ago, I presented DouxMatok for the first time at the Agrivest conference, and we won the best startup prize. The next thing I knew I got a request from the soon-to-become EIT Food, asking if we would like to become one of the first members of a new group of startups called RisingFoodStars. I said: “Of course we would, what a great idea!”
What benefits has being a RisingFoodStar brought to DouxMatok?
It has helped us to go through the development process with big companies. What we experienced before is that big companies would ask us for a sample, we would send it, and the next thing we got was a telephone call either saying “it’s great” or “it’s useless”. We were never able to see what exactly was done with the sample. For the first time we were able to be involved in the full process.
The first time we did this was through a project on butter cookies, which combines our technology with the expertise of other EIT Food partners Strauss, Givaudan, Puratos and the University of Reading. Importantly, we were involved in consumer research on the butter biscuit. The results were so good: 120 mothers with children aged 4-12, in blind tastings preferred the reduced-sugar biscuits we developed with the DouxMatok technology over traditional full-sugar butter biscuits.
You are now involved in another EIT Food project - did that develop directly from the biscuit project you mentioned, SuReBiC?
Yes, one led to another. We are now working on a chocolate project - SureChoc - with similar partners. Just last week, the team met at the Strauss chocolate factory. Because we know each other well now, through EIT Food, we also take things off-line, over and above the projects we are working on and we are partnering on the development of a number of other products outside the scope of the projects.
So, what is SureChoc?
SureChoc is reducing the sugar in chocolate whilst maintaining its sensory properties. When you make sweet products you always ask yourself where do you want the sweetness to come from? In chocolate chip biscuits, you very often want this to come from the chocolate, less so from the dough. And so that’s where you start. The challenge is getting everything together, so you get the advantage of sweetness, the advantage of texture, and the advantage of nutrition. Once you have sorted out the chocolate, and reduced its sugar content by 50%, opportunities for a whole range of other chocolate-containing products open up.
What impact do you think this will have on people’s health?
Everybody is talking about nutrition, and about health, and what people usually refer to when they talk about health is physical health. However, we are really interested in mental health. So obviously sugar, when overconsumed, is really bad for you; but I believe if you deprive humanity of sugar, you will deprive people of happiness. Great tasting food makes us happy. So essentially, the solution that we propose, together with our partners, is that we are helping people to continue to buy the products they love, benefitting their mental health without damaging their physical health through overconsumption of sugar.
About Eran Baniel: Eran is the CEO and Co-Founder of DouxMatok. With many years of management experience in a number of disciplines, Eran’s activities have led to considerable investments in a large number of public and private projects as well as in his entrepreneurial activities.
About the author: Dr Lucy Wallace is a freelance writer with a background in research communications and an interest in novel engagement methods with diverse audiences.