Conagen employs novel solution to make natural capsaicin by fermentation more accessible

Scalable, sustainable capsaicin ingredients for use in food, consumer and industrial products are more accessible now than ever before. Conagen, a biosynthesis and biomanufacturing company, has successfully scaled-up its fermentation process for premium capsaicin and related capsaicinoid molecules.

Capsaicin and its main functions

Chilli peppers are widely used as a food additive in spicy cuisines due to their hot and pungent characteristics. Globally, consumers demand cleaner, more natural and exciting flavours, especially hot and spicy ones.

Yet, the challenge of meeting this demand is manifold, largely because their extraction is limited by the availability of chilli peppers, as they are subject to fluctuations in price and quality.

The market is advancing rapidly as a result of this. Versatile in a broad spectrum of applications, including food, personal care, pharmaceutical, medical and industrial applications such as anti-fouling paint for boats and ships, capsaicin has the potential to replace heavy metals.

“The successful scale-up of our fermentation process for capsaicinoids is a good example of how advanced the organisation is in gene discovery, strain engineering, process development and optimisation,” said Dr Casey Lippmeier, vice president of innovation at Conagen.

“The complimentary addition of capsaicinoids to our product portfolio enhances our motivation to meet consumers’ demand for sustainable, nature-based, and clean ingredients,” he added.

In fact, two major capsaicinoids – capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin – are responsible for roughly 90% of the pungency found in chilli pepper.

Another capsaicinoid, nonivamide, also known as Pelargonic Acid Vanillylamide (PAVA), is found in smaller, trace amounts. Used as an alternative to capsaicin, this ingredient can be found in topical muscle pain relievers and synthetic pepper spray, respectfully.

Making the impossible possible

Due to an extremely low content of nonivamide in hot peppers amidst great demand, current plant extraction methods are not commercially viable. Thus, nonivamide has exclusively been made through chemical synthesis.

Though chemically-synthesised nonivamide is readily available, consumers are increasingly trying to adopt cleaner and natural products.

In the hopes of looking for a solution to supply shortages, Conagen has not only identified several key genes in the capsaicin biosynthetic pathway of hot peppers, it has also demonstrated proof-of-concepts for the production of elements like capsaicin, dihydrocapsaicin, and nonivamide.

So far, patents have been granted to Conagen for microbial production of capsaicinoids. As a result of the demand for a natural, low cost-in-use solution, the organisation has successfully optimised and scaled-up its fermentation process for the production of capsaicin, dihydrocapsaicin, and nonivamide.