Biomade is conducting chemical analysis to characterize aromatic compounds, EFS is working on isotopic markers, and Smart Yeast is selecting custom yeasts (photo: Eric Gaba / Wikimedia Commons)

Startups develop traceability and proof of provenance solution for cachaça distillers

09 de abril de 2019

By Claudia Izique  |  FAPESP Research for Innovation – Three startups supported by FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE) have joined forces to work together on traceability, proof of provenance and quality assurance solutions for producers of cachaça so that they can obtain certifications such as the Indication of Geographic Origin (IGO) while also adding value to their brands. Cachaça, which is made from fresh sugarcane juice, is Brazil’s most popular distilled alcoholic beverage.

“The idea is to demonstrate that the beverage has a fingerprint involving soil, water and climate, as well as the microbiological component typically associated with fermenting, the ‘microbial terroir,’ which we identify, characterize and isolate for the purpose of designing fermentation and endowing each product with a unique identity,” says Cauré Portugal, the director of Smart Yeast in Piracicaba, São Paulo State (Brazil).

Smart Yeast won support from PIPE for a project to select customized yeasts by territory and origin for the production of high-quality fermented and distilled beverages. To validate the project, it used cachaça as a model. “We looked for typical organisms that embodied differentiation, standardization and identity in products with certified provenance,” Portugal explains.

The search results were promising. “The characterization and selection of custom yeasts adapted to the biogeographical conditions of the territories and the fermentation design approach enable us to develop unique products of superior quality and to obtain beverages with specific chemical and sensory profiles, which may even constitute indications of origin for cachaça,” he says.

Once it has identified a territory’s fingerprint, Smart Yeast delivers the yeast to the client with a customized fermentation process designed to give the product distinctive and innovative characteristics. “In fact, what we deliver to the customer is a brand identity,” Portugal says.

Isotopic fingerprint

In Osasco, approximately 180 km from Piracicaba, EFS Pesquisa & Inovação, also supported by PIPE, uses isotopic fingerprints to tackle environmental problems. “We use isotopes of chemical elements to obtain a kind of fingerprint for pollutants, with the aim of investigating cases of environmental pollution,” says Carlos Eduardo Souto de Oliveira, the founder and CEO of EFS.

The firm uses isotopes of copper, lead, zinc and strontium to analyze samples of air, soil or contaminated sediment. In the case of cachaça samples, it is extending its scope to carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. “Different sources of pollution have different isotopic compositions that can be discriminated and quantified with precision in the environment into which they’re dispersed,” Oliveira says.

The isotopic fingerprints, for example, are used to identify the environmental impact of one or more pollutants in a given area and to prove the responsibility of the party or parties involved. “In cases of pollution, we can provide services to stakeholders such as public prosecutors, government, NGOs and manufacturers, among others,” Oliveira explains.

Last year, EFS decided to seek additional opportunities for the use of isotopic markers and to invest in the evaluation of regionality for certification purposes. It also chose cachaça as a model. “We reached out to Smart Yeast as partners, and they contacted producers to send us samples for analysis,” Oliveira says.

Analytical chemistry

Smart Yeast’s expertise in yeast and EFS’s know-how in isotopic markers were joined by those of another startup supported by PIPE: Biomade Soluções Biotecnológicas, which specializes in analytical chemistry and microbiology. Biomade is based in São José do Rio Preto, 430 km from EFS and 370 km from Smart Yeast.

Biomade has developed a device to control the level of ethyl carbamate in cachaça. “Carbamate is a carcinogenic contaminant found in foods and drinks produced with processes that include fermentation,” says Thiago Kobe Ohe, a director of Biomade.

The device is loaded with material that has catalytic properties based on metal ions and is installed inside the distillation column. The firm hopes its system will replace the redistillation process that most producers use and that raises the cost of the product. “The idea is to make sure the distilled end-product complies with the identity and quality standards for cachaça established by the applicable legislation,” Ohe explains.

Ohe and Smart Yeast’s Portugal met at an innovative event on cachaça (Simpósio da Cachaça) organized by the firm in Piracicaba. They were already partnering in beverage analysis when they joined forces with EFS. “Souto reached out to us when he saw a story about Smart Yeast’s leading role in the PIPE High-Tech Entrepreneurship Training Program [PIPE Empreendedor] published by Agência FAPESP,” Portugal says.

The three firms are currently partnering in research that involves their respective areas of expertise and a multidisciplinary approach. “Biomade is conducting chemical analysis to characterize aromatic compounds, for example. EFS is working on isotopic markers to characterize the product. Smart Yeast is integrating this process with sensory analysis and developing custom yeast selection programs,” Portugal says. “The fact that all three firms are linked to PIPE facilitates our knowledge exchange, as we have the same profile and applied research focus.”

The industry is large, composed of more than 11,000 producer establishments and an installed capacity of 1.2 billion liters per year, according to Instituto Brasileiro da Cachaça (“Brazilian Institute of Cachaça”). Informality is significant; however, only 15% of all these establishments, responsible for 4,000 brands, are registered with Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture and Federal Revenue.

Brazil exported 8.4 million liters of cachaça worth US$ 15.6 million to 77 countries in 2018. This was 1.2% less in value than in 2017 and almost 4% less in volume. The main destinations were the United States, Germany, Paraguay, Portugal and Italy. A very large market awaits to be conquered by these three startups.

Company: Smart Yeast

Company: EFS Pesquisa & Inovação

Company: Biomade Soluções Biotecnológicas