How sweet is that Coca-Cola? Israeli start-up lets you know

Puzzled about how much sugar – in its manifold forms – you are consuming? Valiber has answers

Some of the Cokes measured by Valiber, with their Val sweetness values  (Courtesy)
Some of the Cokes measured by Valiber, with their Val sweetness values (Courtesy)

How hot or cold is it? To find out, you check the thermometer. How long or short is an object? For that, you pull out a ruler and measure it. How sweet is “sweet”? Yuval Klein, CEO of Israeli start-up Valiber, aims to answer that question.

“We have established the first objective, measurable standard of sweetness,” he told The Times of Israel. “Distance, size, calories, and just about everything else that can be measured has an objective standard – but taste has been until now just a matter of taste. We want to bring about a day where a person can walk into a coffee shop and say that they want their latté with x degrees of sweetness, using our objective Val measurement.”

In its first proof of concept, Valiber used its technology to determine just how sweet Coca Cola is and discovered that not all Cokes are created alike.

“Although it’s an international brand that is supposedly based on a single formula, there are significant differences in the sweetness levels of Coke in different countries,” said Klein. “The Coke in Spain, for example, is significantly sweeter than it is in Japan.”

A Val, the standard established by Valiber, is the point at which most people begin to determine that something is sweet, with one Val equivalent to 3.423 grams of sugar per liter of water (33.814 US oz.). “We didn’t come up with that number,” said Klein. “That threshold has been noted in numerous scientific studies. We were just the first ones to turn it into a standard.”

It’s one thing to develop a standard, but Valiber also aims to get it accepted, said Klein.

“Our product isn’t just the standard, but a special swizzle stick that users will be able to put into a cup of liquid to determine its level of sweetness – the number of Vals that it has. By seeing sweetness as an objective standard, people will be able to better control how much sugar they consume. With physicians and nutritionists emphasizing the importance of cutting down on sugar, we believe that our standard and our product will be very welcome among people all over the world.”

The stick, equipped with sensors, will beam data to Valiber’s app and give users a Val score for the beverage.

Vals aren’t just about sweetness; they will eventually be used to measure taste sensitivity for salty, bitter, sour and umami tastes – all in numbers.

“We live in a world where we can describe and share everything; from the temperature outside to the depth of your pool. Yet we find it difficult to express how we like something. Imagine walking in a supermarket and being able to compare different tastes of brands, food and drink, and understanding from the packaging alone, what we would like better. Vals can help us do that.”

Sweetness values of Coca Cola, as determined bt Valiber's system (Courtesy)
Sweetness values of Coca Cola, as determined bt Valiber’s system (Courtesy)

To prove its point, Valiber gathered up Cokes from the world over and used its Val standard to determine the sweetness of each one. That’s actually not as simple as it sounds, said Klein.

“Coca Cola bottlers use refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and other types of sugar in different parts of the world, depending on tastes, economy, etc. While the label lists the amount of sugar in terms of grams, HFCS has a different sweetness level than sugar, as do the other cane sugar substitutes. Valiber technology can break down the types of sweeteners used and measure them using our objective standard, so a customer knows exactly what they are getting, regardless of what the label says.”

Thus, the Coke labels in Israel and Spain, for example, both list sugar content of 10.6 grams per 100 ml of beverage – but Spain’s Coke had a Val level of 35, while Israel’s scored a 32. Perhaps even more puzzling was Japan’s Val value of 31, the lowest of any country’s – while the label there reads sugar content of 11.3 grams/100 ml, significantly more than in most places.

The differences, said Klein, could be attributed to the composition of the sugars, as combinations of cane, HFCS, and other sweeteners. In any event, said Klein, the Coke spokespeople he has been in touch with have thanked him for the information and plan to use it to streamline their offerings worldwide.

Coke strives to maintain as uniform taste as possible throughout its product line, and that includes trying to make Diet Coke taste
as much like Coca Cola as possible. “Our system shows that aspartame, used to give Diet Coke its sweetness, is 205 times sweeter than sugar – significantly more than most people think.”

“Coke is just one example,” said Klein. “Our measurement system and device will, we believe, be popular at coffee shops, where someone ordering a beverage will be able to specify just how sweet the want it in terms of Vals. Beyond that, the system will be a boon for those seeking to control their intake of sugar – and of the kinds of sugars they are consuming. The next version of our swizzle stick will work on not only beverages, but food products as well.”

Able to distinguish between cane sugar, HFCS, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, and all of the other names that the food industry uses to mask the huge amounts of sweeteners added to commercial food products, consumers will finally get the truth about how much sugar they are eating and drinking, Klein added.

A Valiber 'swizzle stick' to measure sweetness levels (COurtesy)
A Valiber ‘swizzle stick’ to measure sweetness levels (Courtesy)

Valiber is one of several dozen start-ups from Israel and abroad that will be showing off their technology at FoodTech Nation 2015, the biggest-ever event in Israel highlighting the emerging foodtech field, which marries technology with food production.

Among the other Israeli companies to present will be DouxMatok, which is developing a system to enhance the sweetness of cane sugar and HFCS so that manufacturers will be able to use less of them and still deliver the same sweetness level; Water.IO, which is developing a smart water bottle that lets runners know when they should take a water break; and Flying SpArk, which is developing food proteins from the eggs of houseflies.

The event will be attended by major investors from Israel and abroad, and Valiber hopes to interest some of them in its technology. Established last year, the company recently entered into a partnership with a large Chinese firm that has invested several hundred thousand dollars and will do the manufacturing of the swizzle sticks.

“We want to raise money in the coming year to develop the next phase of the technology, a device that will measure solid food,” said Klein. “Today, doctors and nutritionists know that excessive intake of sugar is a major health risk, but the food manufacturers don’t make it easy for consumers to figure out exactly how much sugar they are consuming. Besides that many consumers are concerned about the kind of sugar they are consuming – cane sugar, HFCS, etc. Valiber is the first standard, and the first technology, that will let them identify and control the sugar they eat and drink.”

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