This week, Oobli launched its lineup of sweet teas sweetened with sweet protein.
The company, formerly Joywell Foods, showed the products off on-stage this week at the SynBioBeta conference (in a session moderated by yours truly). The company’s sweet teas, which are sweetened by a sweet protein called brazzein, can now be purchased on the Oobli website.
Brazzein is the name for the sweet protein derived from oubli, a fruit found in West Africa. Because brazzein from oubli is extremely hard to extract, Oobli (which, as you can probably tell, took inspiration for its name from the fruit) has developed a process to create a chemically identical version of the protein via the process of microbial fermentation. The company’s process for creating brazzein involves isolating the genes responsible for the sweet protein and then inserting them into yeast. This modified yeast is added to a nutrient-rich broth within fermentation tanks, where it then consumes the sugars in the broth to produce sweet proteins identical to that found in the oubli plant.
The result is a tea that has only 7g of sugar (compared to 40g of sugar in 16 oz Snapple Peach sweet tea) and only 60 calories, compared to 150 or so in a similarly sized Snapple. For those who might be thinking they could just drink diet sweet teas with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols to reduce their sugar intake, Oubli and others point out that sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame can raise blood sugars and play havoc with a person’s microbiome. Natural sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia might be better, but they often contain erythritol, which has been shown to increase blood clotting that could lead to stroke or heart attacks.
The Oobli Peach Sweet Tea I had tasted as good or better than any sweet tea I’ve had with sugar or corn syrup, and it didn’t have any noticeable off-taste weirdness I sometimes notice with artificial sweeteners. Add to that the sweetened-by-protein could be a major selling point for consumers who often associate proteins with healthier lifestyles, and I think Oobli might have a potential hit on its hands.
One hurdle to success – at least in the near term – is Oobli’s teas are pretty expensive. A 12-pack of Oobli costs $39, about three times the price of a comparable 12-pack of Snapple would set you back. That said, a more realistic comparison would possibly be a better-for-you brand like Olipop, which sells for roughly the same price as Oobli on a per-unit basis and has shown that higher pricing hasn’t exactly slowed its hockey stick-like growth.
The launch of the company’s sweet tea line comes just a few months after the launch of its chocolate bars which also feature the company’s precision-derived sweet protein. For those wondering, I tried the dark chocolate raspberry, which tasted like other sugar-sweetened dark chocolates I’ve had.