Healthy Sugar? The Sweet Taste of Tagatose

chocolate chip cookies

Sugar is the holy grail of sweetness.

Along with having the perfect texture and mouth-feel, sugar also makes foods taste sweet. It is inexpensive to produce and is a very flexible cooking ingredient. Its properties can withstand freezing temperatures, as in the case of ice cream, as well as high heat, as in the case of warm chocolate chip cookies.

Being that it is in most of our favorite treats, it is no surprise that the body craves it! When we ingest sugar, a chemical reaction occurs in the brain where dopamine is released. Dopamine triggers a feel-good sensation in the body and causes the body to crave more of the sugar.

It is no wonder that the United States ate 11 million metric tons of sugar in 2018 alone – that is 81 pounds per person per year!

It is a struggle to keep sugar at arms-length. According to Mintel, 87% of consumers are cutting back on sugar in their diet, but white granulated sugar, honey, brown sugar, and maple syrup are still the top five choices. These products still get processed in the body the same way. So, consumers remain confused!

Tagatose may be the answer to the world’s craving for sweets.

Tagatose is a good-for-you sugar. Good for you? Seems impossible, but true: tagatose is healthy and has all the physical properties of granulated sugar.

When we were introduced to Bonumose, a tagatose manufacturer, at an iSelectFund event, we were naturally a bit skeptical. The idea of a “healthy” and delicious sugar seemed impossible. How does it stack up against real sugar?

Tagatose has many health benefits.

It is a Prebiotic. Tagatose feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. The small intestine absorbs about 25% of tagatose and then it gets eliminated. The rest goes to the large intestine where it is fermented by probioticswhich, in turn, benefits your colon and overall health. Tagatose also helps inhibit the absorption of fructose and glucose in the liver.

Remember, prebiotics feed the probiotics in your gut. Tagatose has a symbiotic relationship with certain healthy gut probiotic bacteria that prefer to consume tagatose over other bacteria- a perfect match for a healthy immune system.

No glycemic spike and it lowers your blood sugar. Tagatose can slow down glucose levels in both healthy and diabetic individuals. It even has the potential to be a treatment for diabetes. It inhibits the absorption of sucrose and maltase in the small intestine, thus lowering blood sugar levels. Through clinical trials, it has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind).

Assists in weight loss. Tagatose provides sweetness without the same amount of calories as regular sugar. It has 1.5 calories per gram versus sugar’s 4 calories per gram. Tagatose has fiber-like characteristics, so it gives satiety and doesn’t make one crave more.

Tooth Friendly. It is well known that sugar promotes tooth decay. Tagatose has been reviewed by the FDA and is approved to be a non-tooth decay sweetener. It can be used in toothpaste and mouthwash.

Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). In 2004, the FDA gave tagatose status to be used as a sweetener in foods and beverages. The European Union has allowed tagatose to be used as a “novel food ingredient” without any restrictions on usage. However, research has shown that amounts over 10-15 grams per meal or 45 grams per day may cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.

Tagatose is categorized as a rare sugar.

Tagatose is one of many other monosaccharides found in limited amounts in nature and fruits such as apples, oranges, pineapple, as well as milk, certain grains, and cacao. Rare sugars have been expensive to produce and cannot be mass produced like sugar cane, honey, or maple syrup. Because of this, rare sugars have not been considered for use as a sweetener, until now.

Studied for 30 years in South Korea and Japan, tagatose was first created from extracting and fermenting lactose in dairy milk. In Asia, it has been used as a sweetener but in limited amounts. CJ Cheiijedang in South Korea is the largest producer. Still, because of its expense, it has not been widely used as a food ingredient. While you can purchase tagatose on Amazon for about $16.00 per pound, cane sugar is roughly $1.60 per pound.

Bonumose has a patented production technology that could be a game changer.

Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bonumose has patented a process to make tagatose from low-cost starch. Their process uses run-of-the-mill corn starch or by-product starch from potato processing, pea protein production or even tapioca, which is abundant in Southeast Asia. Their patented process is a combination of water and a proprietary enzyme blend which produces extremely high yields of tagatose. As a result, they can reduce the production cost by at least 75%.

Bonumose is led by CEO Ed Rogers, who began his career as an Alabama litigator and an entrepreneur in animal food technology. Ed teamed up with Dr. Daniel Wichelecki, biochemistry Ph.D., shortly after Dr. Wichelecki finished his post-doc work at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign. Dr. Wichelecki invented the starch to tagatose technology.

Bonumose is a B2B company that will be selling tagatose for formulation in beverages, dairy products, and healthy snacks.

“By driving down the cost of tagatose, we can make it possible for companies to produce healthy, delicious, vitality-improving foods and beverages that are affordable for all income levels. We see it as a moral imperative to enable great-tasting, healthy foods even to those who do not have great incomes.”
– Ed Rogers, CEO, Bonumose

How does Tagatose taste?

Dirt-to-Dinner gave baking with tagatose a try. We replaced sugar with tagatose in baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and our favorite banana bread. When we asked our friends and families to taste test the treats, they concluded that while the brownies were too hard and over-browned, the cookies were tasty with great texture, and the banana bread was just perfect!  Look for our recipes posted on our facebook page.

While you can buy tagatose for baking, it is still currently still made from lactose. Despite this, it is considered lactose free for those who have lactose intolerance.

So how will consumers adapt to these rare, good-for-you sugars? Well, we are sold, and for those who love the taste of sugar, we think tagatose will let us have our cake and eat it too!

What’s in a name? In this case, quite a bit.

grilled hamburgers in bun with bacon and cheese

The world needs more protein.

Population growth and rising standards of living will increase the demand for animal meat and vegetable proteins in the decades ahead. Experts say we will need 50% more protein by the year 2050 to provide adequate protein for everyone.

What are the alternatives to animal production?

Many argue for a greater consumption of vegetable proteins. Indeed, plant-based protein products, such as Beyond Meat are now a significant factor in the marketplace.

But entrepreneurial scientists have recently generated another alternative: cell-based meat, where cells from an animal are cultured and grown in a lab.

Dirt-to-Dinner examined “meatless meat” in A New Burger. Since that report, the science and industry behind this new source of protein continue to develop. Companies such as Memphis Meats, Mosa Meats, and Modern Meadow also report positive feedback of cell-based meat as a legitimate player in the protein sector.

“At Memphis Meats, we have a “big tent” philosophy, and collaboratively work with consumers, regulators, mission-oriented groups and major meat companies to help feed a growing planet in a sustainable way. This is a goal that everybody shares.” Uma Valeti, CEO Memphis Meats

Trending today is a positive reaction from consumers on texture, taste and other matters important to consumer acceptance of the product.  Production advances are slowly working on bringing the price point and availability for the product into a range acceptable to consumers.

Grilled Duck, Memphis Meats

But one key element of the developmental process remains unresolved – and is a source of high emotion, intense debate and competition…

It’s what to call this innovative meat!

“Cell-based meat” is a leader within the industry. Cell-based is a neutral, scientifically accurate term that is commonly used by proponents, detractors and neutral observers alike. It references the composition of the products in this category. It parallels and creates a clear distinction from “plant-based protein” and “animal-based meat.”

“Cultured meat” has been discussed in the nomenclature debate. After all, the meat is produced from a cultured sample of the cow, chicken, pig, fish or other target animal. But “cultured” is used in fermented foods such as yogurt and even cured meat, so could lend itself to consumer confusion.

“Laboratory meat” or “lab meat” may conjure up images from a sci-fi movie. Consumers like foods that invoke happy images of a well-fed and satisfied family, not a science lab.

Another contender, “clean meat”, calls attention to the lab’s sanitary conditions, but is yet another unsavory mental image for the shopper. The term, “clean”, also draws objections from those who fear it suggests other types of meat aren’t clean and are therefore somehow suspect.  Consumer advocacy groups worry if the product is called “clean meat,” consumers may assume it is safe and won’t take adequate precautions in preparing it for consumption.

With the innocence and cyber-world orientation that comes with youth, a 12-year-old listened patiently to the debate and responded with a different approach to the type of name that seems right.  “You’re talking about a new kind of protein, really.  You know, Protein 2.0.”

The roster of possible names goes on and on, as do the objections and concerns.  Some animal producers even question whether the product should be called “meat” at all. Take our poll and let us know what you think!

Why is this naming debate so important?

The name serves as the frontline effort to introduce this important new source of protein to the global marketplace. For most of the public, the product’s name will be the first step in building its awareness and introducing its value to consumers. A name that turns people off will do as much to impede or accelerate acceptance of the product as any other single factor. To understand this challenge, look no further than the difficulty of the public acceptance of GMOs. 

What would you call this new protein source?

The survey results are in! Responses were accepted from January 10 thru February 14th, 2018. There were 101 responses. Leading the pack of suggested names (with 6 or more respondents) were:

Cultured Meat
Cell-based Meat
Protein 2.0
Craft Meat
Lab Meat
Eco Meat
Neat Meat

Other names suggested (5 or under respondents) were: Clean Meat, Franken Meat, Alt Meat, Fake Meat, Stem Cell-Based meat, Cheat Meat, Nutrimeat, InVitro Meat, Synthetic Protein, Fake Meat, CIL (Created in Lab) Meat, Lab-Cultured Protein, NuMeat, NuCaro (Latin), and Alternative Protein, “Do NOT call this meat”, and “If this meat does not have active vitamin B12 it is harmful to humans”.

Would you eat a product made from cell-based meat?

Our survey indicated that most respondents would!

In an ideal world, this new source of protein – whatever it is called – shouldn’t be used to promote one type of protein over another (e.g., “superior” in terms of value, quality, economic cost, natural resource demands, ethicality or humaneness). A name that seems to disparage another protein source could provoke an unhealthy competitive environment within the sector when a collaborative effort to boost protein production is most needed.

The name also has implications for the relationship of this emerging industry with government. In a November 2018 statement, the FDA and USDA proposed a ‘joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, and the USDA will oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

California Megafires and the Effects on Agriculture

wildfire in the background of farm field

California leads the nation in producing 90% of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Grapes, almonds, tomatoes, broccoli and much more are grown in the fertile valleys between mountain and sea. Unmatched by any other state in terms of output per acre, the yield in California is 60 percent higher than the national average.

In addition to being a major produce player, California holds the #1 spot in dairy production in all of the U.S., grossing upwards of $6.5 billion in 2017. Cattle for meat production in California is valued at roughly $2.5 billion.

To round out this workhorse state, California produces over 90% of all U.S. wine.

However, California’s recent drought and long dry season make it more susceptible to fire. In the past two years, uncontained wildfires have devastated over 7.3 million acres of land in the golden state. That is about the size of Connecticut and New Jersey combined!

Infographic by Sara Chodosh, capturing the intensity of the fires in California in the last five years.

The majority of the 2017-2018 fires were contained within the forests and non-agricultural land, but a number of rangelands, cannabis farms, dairy farms, citrus groves, avocado orchards, and vineyards were affected, making an impact on growers and California’s $50 billion agricultural industry.


The rate of burn for the 2018 Camp fire is incomprehensible; increasing in speed from 20,000 acres to over 100,000 acres burned in two days. That rate of scorch is equivalent to one football field burning every second. (Source)

Wine: Unintended Ashy Undertones

Unlike the 2017 fires where most of the wine crop had already been harvested, 2018’s bore witness to California’s most severe fires, which spread just before or at the onset of ripening, when grapes soften and change color.

Grapes are vulnerable to smoke damage because of their permeable skin. Depending on fire intensity, length of smoke exposure and stage of vine growth, unharvested grapes can take on smoky, ashy, or bitter characteristics. Consumers find this “smoke taint” unappealing.

While only a small percentage of wines may have been affected by fires and smoke, and these undesirable characteristics of smoke taint can be managed, winemakers do have to take on added costs in eradicating these flavors to avoid disappointing wine drinkers!

Scorched ground and shriveled grapes at the Michael Mondavi Atlas Peak Vineyard (Source:

Livestock Rangeland Scorched

The wildfires had an impact on the region’s farms and ranches, burning buildings, and the grazing land for dairy cows, cattle, horses, and other livestock. Butte County, where the 2018 Camp Fire raged, suffered rangeland losses of 30,000 to 40,000 acres, displaced animals, and destroyed pens, corrals, barns and more.

The Thomas Fire impacted all 7000 acres of rangeland stewarded by the
RA Atmore & Sons and Rancho Ventura Conservation Trust.

“Many of the oak woodlands were lost to the fire, as well as cattle, miles of fences, and other ranch infrastructure. The grasses and other vegetation are coming back. We will be battling invasive and noxious weeds now more than ever. We will need to adaptably manage woody species within the rangeland to achieve realistic goals that serve to improve forage, enhance wildlife habitat and protect our urban neighbors from the devastating effects of wildfire. One thing we learned from the Thomas Fire was “it’s not a matter of if the next Thomas Fire will come; but when.”  Richard Atmore, Ventura County Annual Crop and Livestock  Report, 2017

A cow walks by the flaming hillside in Groveland, California, August 2013. Source: Noah Berger, for National Geographic

Fruits & Veggies Fried

Ventura County, home to 118,000 acres of prime farmland and more than ½ of the total harvested acreage in the country for avocado, lemon, celery, and strawberries, was hit particularly hard during the 2017 Thomas Fire. The fire inflicted severe damage on hillside ranches, consuming forage needed for livestock, destroying barns, irrigation systems, equipment and machinery, and scorching or incinerating several thousand acres of avocado and citrus trees.

“We estimate that we lost 80% of our avocado crop for this year and next. At this point, four months after the fire, we project that over 40% of our avocado trees are dead or unlikely to recover fully. That is over 60 acres. Avocados take several years to come into full production. Even if we could replant right away, we are looking at about 6 years to full recovery.,Realistically, if we replant everything to avocados, it will be many years before we can get back to 2016 production levels.”  –Deborah Brokaw Jackson Brokaw Ranch Company  (SourceVentura County Annual Crop and Livestock  Report, 2017)

As the fires in the hillsides raged, the smoke traveled for miles. This complicated the lives of the farmers and farmworkers and the harvesting of perishable vegetables. The thick smoke haze delayed ripening and harvest, and workers couldn’t work in the fields due to unhealthy air conditions. An already stressed labor situation now experienced shortages of manpower.

Soiled Soil

Wildfires have a direct effect on soil. Contrary to a prescribed burn— which is a healthy burn often utilized by farmers to eradicate weeds or unneeded brush, or by forest rangers to manage forests from forest fires— an uncontrolled wild burn can yield heat levels above 400 degrees. These temperatures can cause irreversible harm to the land.

When the soil is burned at such high temperatures, the organic matter is incinerated. Depending on the intensity and duration of the fire, the recuperation time can be upwards of three years for soil to fully restore nutrients back to its original state. The hard, ashy residues that are left on the topsoil decrease the ability of the soil to absorb water, which increases the likelihood of runoff.

The graphic depicts the inability of water to penetrate the ashy soil, which causes dangerous runoff. (Source)

Because the soil can no longer take in water, there is an increased risk for landslides and flooding. In addition, the silt from the landslides can overrun the reservoirs, contaminate drinking water and create blockages in irrigation systems that supply water to farmlands. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to five years after a wildfire. Mudslides and flooding are the current challenges California is facing in the wake of the recent fires.

How are farmers and ranchers protected from these disasters?

The U.S. Federal government plays a significant role in assisting farmers and ranchers with financial losses caused by natural disasters through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 acknowledges the shared responsibility of disaster response and recovery and aims to build the nation’s capacity for the next catastrophic event.