Which Reb M production method is best for the environment? Ingredion LCA probes stevia sustainability metrics

Full results will be published in the fall, but an early look at a comprehensive lifecycle assessment (LCA) of Ingredion’s stevia sweetener operations suggests different production methods for Reb M have quite different environmental impacts, but also highlights the challenges around how best to communicate LCA data in a responsible manner.

Currently, there are three main production methods for Reb M, which has become the most sought-after stevia sweetener because it has the most sugar-like taste, but is typically present in very low levels in the plant.

  • Leaf​: Reb M extracted from stevia leaves;
  • Bioconversion​: Reb M made with stevia leaf extract as a starting material that then undergoes an enzymatic conversion process to get to Reb M;
  • Fermentation​: Reb M made via fermentation of sugars with genetically engineered yeast.

According to Ingredion, which offers customers Reb M made from all three production methods, Reb M from fermentation and bioconversion outperformed Reb M extracted from the leaf across all four key sustainability metrics (GHG emissions, land use, water scarcity, and cumulate energy demand), with the fermentation-based approach (which doesn’t involve stevia plants at all) generating the lowest environmental impact by some degree (see chart below).

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