Upcycled Plants, Explained

In the first part of this series, we explained how unused or low value plant fiber is leftover in agricultural processes, and how much of this “waste” can be upcycled to create sugars from fiber.

But how, exactly, does it work?

Hint: it’s all about enzymes.

Enzymes are nature’s nanobots — they break down various substances into smaller, more usable components. They’ve been with us for ages; in fact humans were unknowingly using enzymes to convert sugars into alcohol as early as 7000 BC.

We’ve used enzymes making food products for millennia — for example, cheeses, pickles, and beer all rely on them. They’re the microscopic proteins that are often derived from fungi and yeasts, and are responsible for many natural processes, including fermentation, and human digestion.

Yet, it wasn’t until the 1800s that humans really “discovered” enzymes. The first was called diastase, which was quickly followed by others including pepsin and invertase. The concept of enzymes as catalysts, which is something that causes a chemical reaction without being changed itself, came shortly after. The term enzyme itself was later coined, in 1877.

Today enzymes do all kinds of work for us. They break down the food we eat, they’re involved in gastronomy and manufacturing and other production processes, and we use them at Supplant to break down low-value or unused crop fiber into our revolutionary ingredient — sugars from fiber.

The Supplant Company uses our patented, fungi-based enzymatic process to upcycle unused plant fiber into “sugars from fiber” — an entirely new blend of sugars with the properties of both a sugar, and nutritional fiber.

Even though the structural parts of agricultural crops are composed mainly of valuable fibers like cellulose and hemicellulose, they haven’t typically made their way into the food system to provide nutrition for humans.

Sugarcane, for example, is an extremely fibrous plant, with only 10 to 20% of the plant being processed into refined sugar. The rest is either wasted, ploughed under, burned, or sold for non-human purposes.

This unused plant fiber is still rich in nutritional value. For example, every ton of corn grain harvested results in an additional ton of leftover husks, leaves, and stalks. Enzymes help to solve the problem of disposing of the extra agricultural material, by breaking it down into sugars from fiber.

We do it by taking raw unused plant fiber and pre-treating it with heat to loosen it before the enzymatic process does its job of converting it all to sugars from fiber, which is then used to make delicious treats like cookies, chocolate, and ice cream.

According to Tom Simmons, CEO and Founder of Supplant, the particular process that Supplant uses “allows us to faithfully mimic the properties of sucrose in food products.”

Unlike refined cane sugar, which provides calories but no fiber, Supplant is both a sugar, because of the short-chain oligosaccharides it contains, and a fiber, because of the cellulose it contains.

Sugars from fiber contain less than half the calories compared to refined sugar, cause no insulin spike in the body (which can lead to diabetes), and have prebiotic qualities — meaning they are good for gut health.

And, even though enzymes have been around for millennia, there is now yet another new possibility on the horizon for these humble molecules — one that is poised to change the game for our food, health, and sustainability, forever.

Supplant sugars from fiber are coming to the United States this fall.

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