On the weekends if I go out to brunch, I like to treat myself to a tall glass of orange juice along with my pancakes and eggs. Which seems like a healthy choice: OJ, after all, is fruit — it’s got to be good for me, right?
Apparently, not so much. According to a study in the journal Nutrition (via NPR), fruit juice has a fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per liter — which is only a smidgen less than soda, which averages at 50 grams per liter. Just one cup of OJ has 21 grams of sugar, which is almost half of the FDA’s recommended daily sugar limit.
But you don’t necessarily have to ditch your OJ just yet. A company called Better Juice is developing a way to cut down on the amount of simple sugars in fruit juice, honey, agave, and more. Founded in 2017, the Israeli startup has created a column-shaped piece of hardware which contains mobilized non-GMO microorganisms.
The column is adjustable and electric powered. After the juice is squeezed workers pour it into the column, which uses pumps, heat exchangers, and cooling to pass the liquid through the micro-organisms and out the other side. As it goes through, the microorganisms convert the fructose, glucose, and sucrose (basically, all the molecules that make food taste sweet) in the juice into fibers that will, um, pass, instead of absorbing into your body.
“We’re not actually removing the sugar,” explained Better Juice CEO Eran Blachinsky over the phone. “We’re leaving it in the juice, just in a non-digestible form.” Blachinsky wouldn’t disclose what kind of microorganisms they used (algae, yeast, etc.) but told me that they were food grade. The entire process takes about one hour from start to finish.
Jenn Marston wrote about Better Juice earlier this year, stating that its low-sugar, high-fiber product “basically solves the two biggest gripes about fruit juice out there right now.”
Of course, reducing the digestible sugar content also means the juice will taste less sweet, so the company has to strike a balance between health and flavor. “We are able to reduce 87 percent of the sugars,” said Blachinsky. “But most people enjoy a 30 percent reduction.” According to him, that percentage maintains the sweet taste while still allowing the beverage company to label their product as “reduced sugar,” targeting health-conscious consumers.
Better Juice currently has six employees and has received approximately $500,000 from Israeli food tech incubator The Kitchen Hub. The company has just completed its prototype and will be piloting it abroad with three beverage companies: one in Israel and two “abroad.”
Each liter of Better Juice’s micro-organism-filled column can treat 1,000 liters of juice. Blachinksy didn’t disclose exact pricing details, noting that the number depends on the quantity in production, but said that 1 cubic meter of column would cost between $100,000 and $200,000 total. While the hardware will last indefinitely, the company has to replace the micro-organisms ever 2 to 3 months.
Reduced sugar beverages are growing in popularity — soda sales are down, while low-sugar or sugar-free ready-to-drink (RTD) products are on the rise. With its B2B technology that allows any juice (or honey, or ice cream, etc.) company to reduce the amount of sugar in their product, without sacrificing taste, Better Juice could help a large range of companies break into the burgeoning healthy drink market.
The only issue I could see is adoption difficulties on the manufacturing side. Blachinksy asserted that Better Juice’s column is easy to install and wouldn’t require specially trained or skilled employees, but it’s easy to be optimistic before the real-world test of a pilot program. If the column is indeed as easy to plug into manufacturing practices as Blachinsky hopes, it could be a pretty sweet (sorry) deal for all involved.