As demand for the amino acid cysteine increases in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, producers are developing bioprocessing and fermentation production processes to meet changing regulatory and consumer needs.
“We are constantly asked if cysteine is halal and if it can be used as a raw material or as an additive,” Dr. Ali Fanous told Salaam Gateway about manufacturer and consumer uncertainties.
These are important issues for the halal sector as the conventional production process is haram (not allowed) as it involves the hydrolysis of human hair molecules or the use of animal products such as feathers and pig hair like raw materials.
Fanous spoke about the complexity of this critical Halal material at the 7th World Halal Summit, which was held from November 25-28, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The food technologist works as a technical auditor and heads the audit department of the German certification body Halal Control GmbH.
Cysteine has a wide range of possible applications. The amino acid is widely used as an additive in prepared meals such as packet soups. Large-scale bakeries use cysteine to remove gluten from flour, making it easier to knead and process dough. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is used as an expectorant in cough medicines. The cosmetics industry works with the material when producing hair conditioning agents, fragrance ingredients and radical scavengers.
According to a market report by QY Research in 2020, the global cysteine market was valued at $392.7 million. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.4% over the next seven years, reaching $640.6 million by 2027.
China, the world’s largest manufacturer of cysteine, according to Fanous, still uses human hair for production. A ton of hair produces 100 kilograms of cysteine. However, the method requires 27 kg of hydrochloric acid, which is harmful to humans and the environment, to produce 1 kg of cysteine.
Following the European Union’s 2012 ban on the use of food additives produced by cysteine derived from human hair, Wacker Chemie, a German chemical multinational founded in 1914, set out to create alternatives .
The company developed a patented biotechnology process and became the first company in the world to manufacture cysteine by fermentation, investing 30 million euros ($33.8 million) at its site in León, Spain. Since September 2018, the facility has been producing 800,000 liters, with cysteine from purely plant-based raw materials and is certified halal, kosher and vegan.
The company’s process eliminates the risk of potential contamination from human or animal pathogens, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, and requires only a fraction of the hydrochloric acid used in conventional production.
“This cysteine is very pure, very clean,” Fanous said of the product. “But it’s expensive.”
In April, South Korean food company CJ CheilJedang launched third-generation cysteine based on microbial fermentation without electrolysis, calling it “the world’s first natural cysteine.”
“We only use vegan sources for fermentation, especially sugars,” CJBio food scientist Judy Kim said during a webinar. “We don’t use any synthetic process,” Kim added, because electrolysis changes the molecular structure.
“Our customers can now affirm that there is natural flavor,” said Paul Kim, Global Human Nutrition Director at CJBio.
According to the company, the product is considered a natural flavor under standards based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Program, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and EU regulations.
These technological developments, however, pose challenges for halal certification bodies.
“The certification body must, of course, have specialists in the field of food chemistry, food technology or food genetic engineering. Unfortunately, not all certifiers are qualified in this regard,” Fanous said, referring to the European market.
“There are few certifying bodies that have really [the right] professionals or competent people,” he said.
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