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Sweet Spot

Berries of the West African oubli plant are so sweet that, according to legend, they make nursing babies forget their mothers’ milk. Now, the protein responsible for that taste—a substance 1,000 times sweeter than cane sugar with virtually no calories—may soon become an ingredient in sugar-free foods. CALS researchers first isolated the protein, known as brazzein, from oubli plants in 1994, and they’ve recently perfected a way to produce the protein outside its berries. Natur Research Ingredients, a California company that makes natural sweeteners, has licensed the technology and plans to market brazzein under the product name Cweet, pending FDA approval. The company sees potential for Cweet to sweeten bitter-tasting pills or to help diabetics stick to low-sugar diets. “It gives a pure, sweet property,” says Fariba Assadi-Porter, a CALS biochemist who developed the technology, “and that’s hard to come by.”