Thaumatin can be used as a sweetener or a taste-modifying protein. It interacts with taste receptors on the tongue and changes food perceptions in different ways:
Despite the fact it is not a sugar, Thaumatin elicits a very sweet taste: it is rated as being 2,000 to 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose (depending on its purity) by taste panels. This makes it the sweetest natural substance on earth. 1kg of Thaumatin is equivalent in sweetness to 2-3 Tonnes of sugar, (without the same calories !). The taste is characterised by a short delay to the onset of the sweet perception, followed by a very long sweet taste in the mouth. Thaumatin is rarely used on its own, but is rather advantageously blended with other intense sweeteners to obtain a well rounded and pleasant taste (0.5-2 ppm).
Flavour Enhancer and Mouthfeel Improvement
Thaumatin enhances the intensity of fruit, mint, coffee and many other flavours. For levels as low as 2 ppm, it considerably increases such flavours, hence reducing the required ingredient dosage in formulations. The perception threshold is also reduced several folds. With low fat products, it gives a more rounded mouthfeel.
Masking Bitterness and off-Flavours
Thaumatin sweetens the pill! It is very effective at masking bitter notes often associated with pharmac
euticals or vitamins. Used at 20-400 ppm in pills and tablets, its long-lasting effect covers strong bitter aftertaste and leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth. Thaumatin also masks astringency and off-flavours.
Allergenic and Toxicological Studies
An extended joint study by FAO and JECFA that was carried out on animals and volunteers, showed that Thaumatin has no toxic or allergenic effects. It is important to avoid any confusion between "Thaumatin" and "thaumatin-like". Indeed a class of allergenic substances (PR5), which is commonly found in fruit including apple, is called "thaumatin-like". Thaumatin however does not belong to any class of allergens.
Calorie Value and Metabolism
Studies showed that Thaumatin is metabolised by the body in the same way as any dietary protein. Its calorie value is similar to that of other proteins. Its contribution to the calorie tally is insignificant with regard to the low doses used in typical applications.
Thaumatin has been classified as safe by a joint FAO/JECFA committee with no mention of maximum ADI (Allowable Daily Intake). Legislation may vary locally. It is approved as FEMA GRAS -use as a flavour ingredient- in the US. In the EU, Thaumatin is listed as food additive E 957. It is permitted as a sweetener, as a flavour enhancer in defined food products (ice creams, chocolate preparations, chewing-gums …) and as a "flavouring preparation" in all applications under Good Manufacturing Practices. It is approved as a natural food in Japan. Other countries such as Canada, Mexico, Korea, Australia have approvals regarding uses as a flavour ingredient.