In the same category as monk fruit and stevia, Thaumatin is used to sweeten food and drinks naturally. It has been used by the West Africans for hundreds of years, but is little known to us. I shine the spotlight on this mysterious sweet stuff.
What is it?
Thaumatin is a protein which is isolated from the katemfe fruit, Thaumatococcus daniellii, also called “the miraculous fruit of the Sudan.” Katemfe is common in the West African rain forest zone. The fruit contains 1-3 black seeds surrounded by a gel, and capped with a membranous sac, the aril, which contains the sweet material. This is used as a sweetener in cooking, in flavoring palm wine, and in healthy alternatives to sugary treats.
The power of Thaumatin’s taste enhancement properties have been known for hundreds of years – used by the West Africans to sweeten corn breads and sour fruits.
It was first brought to the attention of the western world in the 1840’s when, during a posting to the region, British Army Surgeon, W F Daniell, made note of how the locals used Thaumatin. He later reported his findings in a pharmaceutical journal. In the 1970s, great emphasis was placed on Thaumatin’s sweetening properties and for some time this defined its marketing path.
Thaumatin is a protein, so it has 4 calories per gram. Since it has such high potency relative to sugar, the amount used is so extremely small, it does not provide measurable calories when used in food.
Like stevia, thaumatin has been used for centuries and shows no signs of danger to human health. Thaumatin is digested like any other protein, so there is no concern about toxicity.
Thaumatin is listed as being 2000-3000 times sweeter than sucrose (sugar) and does not contribute any calories to the diet.
Thaumatin is sweet, with a slow onset, lingering sweetness and slight licorice after-taste. It is about 2000 times sweeter than table sugar, gram for gram.
While you will struggle to find this on the shelves of the supermarket for use in baking, you may see it added to some of your foods. Always read the ingredients label and recognise what is in there! It’s time to get educated, Fitties.