590px-L-cysteine-skeletalL-Cysteine .The Flavour Amino Acid.

We wrote a bit about L-Cysteine a few weeks ago [click here].

It has been the standard amino for creating savoury flavours in combination with reactive sugars such as xylose, ribose and rhamnose. 

Also used in bread as dough conditioner to stretch gluten . It has e-number in the EU ,E-920.  It can be used in pharmaceuticals and in cosmetics and personal care.

Traditional sources have been duck and chicken feathers .  The hydrolysis of feathers using strong Hydrochloric Acid reduce sthe protein, keratin, into individual amino acids which are then separated out .  Feathers yield about 5% Cysteine.  In the past Human Hair with a 13% yield was preferred . Leucine and Tyrosine are also produced in this conversion . Continuing problems with Bird Flu will see demand for this type of custeine to increase dramatically

The problem with Cysteine is that food users want a non-anaimal origin for claiming vegetarian status and to get away from the problems that crop us regularly. Bird Flu and the possibilities of virus associated getting into the food stream.

Many other amino acids are fermented so why has it been difficult for cysteine to be prodced this way.?  Normally ina fermentation bacteria are used and they create their own feedstocks or by products. The trouble has been that cysteine producing bacteria have only produced enough cysteine to feed themselves.  With improvements in biotech it has been possible to engineer a bacteria ( an optimised  E-Coli strain ) that produces excess Cysteine.   Actually I should be saying Cystine which is a combination of two cysteine molecules.

Wacker in Germany do supply cysteine produced this way by a patented method . Now rumours of a producer in China is producing Cysteine by a fermentation method which is claimed to be different from Wacker. we aawait to see

Obviously having two suppliers would be good for competition and improvements will reduce prices in due course.  Cysteine produced by extraction from feathers costs around $10.00 kg whereas the fermented is over $30.00 kg . In a 6000 tonne worl market Wacker claim around 1000 tonnes. It could be China’s aim to improve the process and to reduce the price to offer flavour compnaies and alternative to feather origin at prices that will produce a switch .

The aims of biotech are to use cheaper substrates to produce cheaper purer and sustainable products. Watch this space