Rapid technological advancements in the last century have paved the way for a plethora of new enzyme applications, as manufacturers’ understanding of microbiology, as well as enzyme-producing microorganisms and genetic engineering, have taken a leap of growth.

For centuries, human beings have exploited the impressive catalytic efficiency of enzymes in food processing. Further to that, the food industry has discovered that enzymes are a secret weapon of enhancing quality of product such as nutritional profile, texture, appearance, flavour and fragrance, shelf-life, purification, among others.

The use of these ubiquitous biomolecules can be traced back to the tradition of wrapping meat in papaya leaves to tenderize it with papain or the harvest of rennet from a calf’s stomach for processing liquid milk into cheese.

However, rapid technological advancements in the last century have paved the way for a plethora of new applications, as manufacturers’ understanding of microbiology as well as enzyme-producing microorganisms and genetic engineering have taken a leap of growth. This has marked the transition of harvesting the enzymes the old-fashioned way from animal and plant tissues to microbial fermentation by use of yeast, bacteria and fungi.

Wide applications in food industry

Production of enzymes by fermentation has led to manufacturing of the natural biocatalysts at a commercial scale in response to the high demand and specificity to application. For instance, carbohydrase, one of the most widely utilized enzymes, is chiefly applicable in baking and brewing industries as it performs function of converting carbohydrates into simple sugar.

Meanwhile, amylase, a subtype of carbohydrase has significant application in the production of baked goods as a texture and flavour enhancer and an anti-staling agent to improve bread quality. In addition, it is used in the beverage industry for beer formulation to produce thick, rich beer with distinct taste.

On the other hand, glucoamylases are extensively employed to produce modified starches such as glucose syrups and high-fructose corn syrups. Proteases, just as the name suggests, play a crucial role in protein modification by reducing its toughness. Another key enzyme, lipase finds its application in the dairy sector for flavour improvisation, producing free fatty acids on hydrolysis that help provide the characteristic taste and aroma of products such as cheese.

Still in the dairy category, lactase diminishes the quantity of lactose to deliver low lactose milk. In fermented milk, the utilisation of lactase quickens the reaction and enhances the fermentation process.  Lastly, hydrolysates are utilized in the fortification of infant formulae, soft drinks, and juices. They also facilitate quicker preparation of dough, reduced mixing time, and regulate gluten strength in baked commodities.

These are just a handful of the enzymes utilized by food and beverage manufactures to produce novel products that meet market preferences.

High demand of the commodities drives the multi-billion food enzyme market, which was valued at US$2.3 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach US$ 3.3 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 6.2%, according to Research and Markets. Steering the lucrative market are multinational players such as Novozymes, Kerry, Royal DSM, Chr. Hansen, BASF, IFF, among others.

“There have been significant changes in the role enzymes play in food and beverage production over recent years. From primarily being used to optimize processes in industrial applications and enabling lower water and electricity use, we’ve seen a shift towards using enzymes to produce products that are better for the planet and improve the health and wellness of consumers, such as through removing chemicals or enabling plant-based products,” said Frederik Mejlby, vice president marketing food and beverage, Novozymes in an interview with Food Ingredients First.

Better-for-you products drive adoption

Recent studies have shown a gradual shift of consumers from chemical ingredients to naturally processed food products that are safe and healthy.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), long-term exposure of chemicals at highly concentrated levels through food may have a toxicological effect on humans. Though they are essential building blocks, synthetic chemicals as additives have an adverse effect on health when consumed. 

According to efsa, long-term exposure of chemicals at highly concentrated levels through food may have a toxicological effect on humans

Enzymes, on the other hand, aid in the manufacturing of food or food ingredients but do not have a function in the final product.  This makes them a better alternative to synthetic chemicals which most consumers are already trying to avoid.

Increasing awareness among people regarding the health concerns associated with the consumption of synthetic ingredients is expected to surge the demand for better-for-you products, driving the adoption of enzymes compared to chemical or synthetic processing aids.

In response to this, DuPont, prior to the acquisition of its Nutrition & Biosciences business by International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) in 2021, was the first company to launch an ascorbic acid alternative, Hexose oxidase, for the baking industry in 2018.

The alternative launch was timely for the food industry as previous studies have showed that synthetic vitamin C may contribute to the formation of genotoxins that can lead to cancer. The hexose oxidase technology can utilize many different sugar molecules as a substrate rather than just glucose alone, improving the gluten network in dough systems during mixing and fermentation.

Go to ingredient for clean label products

Other than demand for natural and wholesome products, consumers have become more conscious, informed, and connected as they closely examine the nutritional composition of products. This has triggered the trend of consuming clean-label, free-from, minimally processed products with shorter or preferably recognizable ingredients list. Food enzymes fit well with this ongoing trend.

Early 2021, IFF targeted label-friendly baking demands with the launch of its new dough strengthener, EnoveraTM 3001, in the North American market. The “enzyme-only” ingredient was found to perform “equivalently or better than” traditional chemical emulsifiers and with a reduced dependence on aids to compensate for inconsistencies. Further hacking the clean label craft in bread and buns, the food ingredient supplier, has unveiled GRINDSTED POWERBake Clean, a blend of soy lecithin, enzymes, and natural soluble fiber.

Enzymes put at bay lactose intolerance

Other than minimizing the ingredient list, enzymes are also used to eliminate undesirable components off a food product.

For instance, lactase is used to convert lactose in milk into digestible simple sugars. Lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, can cause problems like bloating, acid reflux and other gastrointestinal discomfort in people with intolerance of the compound. Lactase enzymes overcome the problem as they enhance the digestion of food even in people with compromised digestive systems.

Therefore, Danish biological solutions company, Novozymes launched Saphera Fiber, a new lactase enzyme which enables manufactures to increase the content of fibers while also reducing sugar in fermented and non-fermented dairy products, as the break-down of lactose results in glucose and galactose, making them sweeter.

Giving plant-based foods a kick

Consumers globally are increasingly adopting plant-based foods in the diets, as it confidently waves the sustainability card. But while consumers are increasingly adopting plant proteins, they’re not willing to compromise on taste or mouth feel as they indulge.

To this end, the plant-based food segment is highly utilizing enzymes to make alternative foods more acceptable to consumers, with next level sensory experience from taste to texture and even appearance.

For example, plant-based beverages like oat or rice milk can have poor emulsion stability, meaning products might separate out over their shelf life instead of remaining a consistent mixture. Enzymes like amylase can help improve stability of the product. Much like lactase, amylase can also reduce the need for added sugar because the products of starch hydrolysis are sweeter than the starch itself. This can be achieved by solutions such as Novozyme’s BAN enzyme.

When it comes to plant-based meat, the company has unveiled a wide range of enzymatic solutions aimed to make the first bite count. For instance, its Methyl cellulose is frequently used as a thickener in meat alternatives and enhances emulsification, cold binding, hot binding, and juiciness of the product. Meanwhile, with its Protana range, processors can produce enzymatically hydrolyzed vegetable protein (EHVP), a natural solution to flavour enhancement.

EHVP increases the perceived saltiness of plant-based meat alternatives by activating taste buds that are linked to umami receptors. Through this it enables customers to reduce their use of salt.

In Japan, food ingredients giant Amano Enzyme released Umamizyme Pulse in May 2021, designed to use in a wide variety of plant protein products to produce the savory, umami flavor. Additionally, the new ingredient also imparts kokumi, a sensation of richness and complexity.

Fighting food waste by extending shelf-life

Still in the sustainability front, enzymes have a crucial role to play in preventing and reducing food waste and its associated carbon emissions, most notably within the bakery, brewing and the meat industry. Globally, there is a big challenge with food waste and a staggering one-third of all food produced goes to waste, with an economic cost of US$936 billion to the world’s economy. Consumers are becoming increasingly more receptive to it, with about half of consumers globally willing to pay extra for food and beverage products that help solve food waste.

Jacques Georis, global R&D fermentation sciences director at Kerry Group in an interview stressed, “Enzymes can be an ally in this sustainability journey as these natural and invisible powerhouses can effectively help manufacturers improve their sustainability metrics. Kerry has expanded its enzymes portfolio used within bakery and brewery beyond traditional applications, to actively tackle climate change – food waste reduction and supporting circular economy – using nature’s own resources.”

Based on the company’s deep understanding on the baking process, Kerry has developed a range of clean label enzyme solutions dubbed Biobake. “This technology helps manufacturers significantly reduce waste and improve production line efficiency, while still producing superior products that maintain their quality and functionalities,” details Georis.

Meanwhile, IFF recently unveiled a new range of bakery enzymes dubbed Powerfresh and Powersoft for the Chinese market, which is seeing a boom in sweet baked goods. The anti-staling solutions were developed to deliver the desired taste, texture and shelf-keeping characteristics in cakes, sweet rolls and buns while maintaining the desired shape and volume.

Boost local sourcing

Another trend that is driving growth of the food enzyme market is food processor’s turn towards use of local and ancient grains to produce products. Working with ancient grains could however pose formulation challenges in terms of texture, softness, and freshness. This creates a need for enzyme to enhance the production process.

“Globally, malt-based beverages such as beer and several non-alcoholic beverages rely on malt that’s been imported from Europe. We’ve developed enzyme solutions that enable the use of locally sourced raw materials instead. To our customers, this saves shipping costs, but it also saves greenhouse gas emissions when you can source materials locally instead of transporting them around the world,” notes Frederik Mejlby, vice president marketing food and beverage, Novozymes. The company has a wide range of solutions under its brewing line such as Ceremix, Ondea, Neutrase, among others.

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences has also been at the forefront championing the local sourcing agenda, through the launch of its innovative solutions such as POWERMill, with tests carried out on soft, hard, and semi-hard wheat types, taking into consideration the local water quality.

In addition, the company launched POWERPasta, aimed to explore the saving potential of less expensive locally or regionally sourced wheat. This was followed with the company’s launch of a new enzyme solution for adjunct liquefaction, the Amylex 6T, aimed to help breweries and distilleries meet liquefaction challenges, satisfy consumer demand for locally sourced ingredients, and improve profitability.

Meanwhile, DSM, launched Maxadjunct ß L, an adjunct brewing enzyme to enable the use of unmalted raw materials in beer making.

Hiccups in standardization and regulations

The rise of food enzymes as processing ingredients in the food industry has led to the continuous evolution and upgrade of their safety regulatory framework. In terms of food legislation, enzymes are categorized into food additives and food processing aids.

The categorization of food enzymes is vital due to pre-market approval, including safety evaluation, which is mandatory only for additives in some countries.

However, the definitions for additives and processing aids vary across countries and regions, which create regulatory uncertainties that negatively impact market growth. This scattered and piecemeal approach to regulate enzymes is expected to negatively impact the growth of the market.

“Achieving standardized labelling for enzymes would expedite manufacturers’ ability to launch innovation to several markets simultaneously, benefiting those global customers that have processing facilities across the world,” says Jacques from Kerry.

Africa’s growing market

Despite the glaring hitch experienced in the sector, the food enzyme market in Africa is witnessing rapid growth at an expected CAGR of 4.5% during the period 2020 – 2025, highlights Mordor Intelligence. Innovations in food technology in the region and the growing awareness about better-quality products from utilization of enzymes, are some of the factors that are further driving the market growth.

Tapping into the growing market, Barentz International, a leading global distributor of a comprehensive portfolio of specialty ingredients including food enzymes, announced a joint venture with SK Chemtrade Services in 2019, to continue its expansion in South Africa.

That same year, Novozymes, opened a regional office in Nairobi, Kenya in a bid to broaden its presence in East Africa. In 2021, another global leader, AIT Ingredients, producer of technical solutions such as improvers, correctors, enzymes and aromatic solutions for the milling and baking industries, set base in the East African nation.

Enzyme technologies continue to provide a healthier, environmentally friendly, safe, and effective solution for future food processing, and as global giants enter the African market and establish local facilities, the continent’s food companies are set to harvest abundantly from the huge benefits brought by new enzyme technologies

This feature appeared in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE