Though it sounds like a hardcore street narcotic in some rain-soaked cyberpunk noir story (apologies, I’ve been binging Altered Carbon), Nucane, a new sugar product, is actually quite sweet. And if it works as promised, the sweetest part could be a new industrial approach to making sugar… I don’t want to say “healthier,” but at least less bad for you.
Nucane is a product of Nutrition Innovation, a startup that works with sugar mills to change the way they refine sugar. The big problem with sugar, Nutrition Innovation CEO, Matthew Godfrey told me, is how it is processed and turned into the white sugar we are all familiar with.
Nutrition Innovation uses near-infrared scanning technology to understand the composition of the raw sugar cane coming into the mill. Based on this analysis, Nutrition Innovation’s algorithms tell the mill how to alter its refinement process (crushing, washing, drying, etc.) in order to produce a better sugar product.
The result is Nucane, which retains minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and has a lower glycemic index than traditional white refined sugar. Godfrey says Nucane also creates less of a sugar “spike” and provides a more sustained release of energy after consumption.
Because it’s made from sugar, Nucane can be swapped into existing recipes 1 for 1, meaning food producers don’t have to retrofit recipes. According to Godfrey, their product is also very consistent, like white sugar, and consistency is important to food manufacturers who don’t want variations in the taste of their product.
Nutrition Innovation’s customers are sugar mills that can then offer Nucane as a sugar alternative to its buyers. Because the refinement happens at the mill, Godfrey says Nucane offers convenience by removing an intermediate step for bulk sugar buyers. For example, a Canadian company buying bulk sugar from Brazil does not have to then get that raw sugar processed somewhere else before adding it to their products.
Though he wouldn’t provide specifics, Godfrey says this benefit helps make Nucane stay “competitive in pricing.” Nutrition Innovation signed an agreement Australia’s Sunshine Sugar in September of last year for Sunshine to offer Nucane to its industrial sugar buyers. In addition to that, Godfrey says that “forty to fifty” companies around the world are currently testing Nucane in various food and beverage brands.
A big barrier to entry for Nucane will be the innate human resistance to change. Large brands don’t like messing with recipes and consumers hate it when their product starts tasting different. Though Nucane apparently tastes very similar to traditional refined sugar, fear of change could pose a challenge as Nutrition Innovation tries to scale itself. The company has received an undisclosed round of seed funding and its next goal is to expand globally into sugar producing geographies such as Thailand, Latin America and Africa.
Nucane is just the first of many “sugar solutions” Nutrition Innovation will be offering. With adult obesity rates hitting record highs, it doesn’t take a hard-boiled detective from the future to deduce that we must find ways to solve the complications that come with our love of sugar. And who knows? Maybe one answer might be in sugar itself.