Drinking tea relieves greasy, soothes the nerves, and refreshes the mind. The theanine in tea is indispensable!
According to the data of Innova, theanine is also a dietary supplement raw material with a very strong growth momentum in the past five years. L-theanine’s compound annual growth rate in the past five years is 102%.
* “Recent five years” refers to the period from October 2017 to September 2022.
Why is the growth rate of theanine so high? What are the current mainstream extraction processes? Why has theanine failed to become a popular raw material in China?
The “Resume” Of Theanine
Tea is a recognized healthy drink in the world. Tea ceremony culture is prevalent in China. Drinking tea is addictive, produces a sense of pleasure, and has the effect of calming the nerves. Because the amino acids contained in tea can stimulate the brain to secrete more dopamine, L-theanine is the main amino acid component.
Theanine accounts for more than half of the free theanine in tea. Theanine is synthesized from a glutamic acid molecule and an ethylamine molecule. It is mainly synthesized naturally by glutamic acid and ethylamine in the roots of tea trees under the catalysis of the plant’s own enzymes. Then, through the branches, transported to other parts of the plant and accumulated.
The content of theanine in tea stems is higher. Researchers found that tea stems contain more theanine than tea leaves. Therefore, the extraction of theanine from tea stems has advantages in raw materials, and theanine is also extracted from tea polyphenol waste.
Theanine was first developed and utilized in Japan.
In 1949, theanine products were listed in Japan. At that time, theanine was only used to improve the taste of beverages.
In 1950, Japanese scholars extracted theanine from green tea and identified its molecular structure as N-ethyl-γ-L-glutamine, named theanine. Of course, theanine extracted naturally has an L-shaped structure, also known as L-theanine.
Theanine May Have Nothing To Do With Tea
Although theanine was first discovered and extracted from tea leaves, theanine may have nothing to do with tea now because theanine extracted from natural tea leaves is the mainstream source in the market.
Currently, the production of chemically synthesized theanine accounts for nearly 2/3 of the international theanine market. Theanine produced by biological fermentation accounts for about 25%. Natural theanine has been relegated to third place, accounting for less than 10%.
Behind this also involves a period of the development history of the theanine extraction process.
Iteration Of The Extraction Process And Market Competition
In the 1990s, theanine in the international market was mainly extracted from green tea. The largest theanine producer in Japan is Taiyo Emerald Co., Ltd.
Later, under the situation of short supply in the market, a chemical synthesis process was developed abroad. Japan’s Kyowa Fermentation Co., Ltd. has developed a new process for converting industrial starch into theanine using bacterial fermentation.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the international market formed a three-legged situation of natural (extracted from tea) theanine, synthetic theanine, and microbial fermentation to produce theanine.
After a lot of trouble, Chinese companies have gradually joined the “battle.” At present, China has become the main production area of theanine.
According to Hengzhou Primus Information Consulting’s “2021-2027 Global and Chinese Theanine Industry Research and 14th Five-Year Plan Analysis Report”, China’s theanine production will reach 682.9 tons in 2020, accounting for 77.89% of the global total.
The main consumption areas of theanine are China, Japan, the United States, Europe, and other places. Emerging Asian-Pacific markets, such as India, have a fast-growing demand for theanine products. Preparing healthy foods that improve sleep in the food field has attracted the most attention.
Theanine Powder: The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic
Different sources have different spatial configurations.
The biggest difference is that the theanine’s molecular structure and space configuration differ. Naturally extracted theanine is in the L configuration. However, those derived from chemical synthesis or microbial fermentation usually have two configurations: a mixture of L-theanine and D-theanine.
Conformational differences affect activity function.
The same substance (same molecular formula) has different configurations in spatial structure, which will affect the optical rotation, physiological activity, and functionality of the molecule. Scientific research has found that the biological activity of the L-form structure in the body is much higher than that of the D-form.
The process is different, and the price is different.
Natural L-theanine is more expensive. The mass fraction of L-theanine in dry tea only accounts for 1% to 2%. Both resource and process lead to low extraction rates, yield, and product purity. Extracting L-theanine from tea leaves or tea waste residues has low yield, great difficulty, and high cost, and the price is much higher than that of synthetic products.
Usually, the price of 20% natural L-theanine is about 400 yuan/kg. Over 90% of synthetic source specifications exceed 200 yuan/kg.
Since natural and synthetic sources are different, how to identify them?
- First, the optical activity is different.
L-theanine and D-theanine have different spatial configurations and optical rotations of the molecules. Naturally occurring theanine is L-type, and its specific rotation [α]D20=0.7°.
Microbial fermentation or chemical synthesis source, specific rotation [α] D20 = +7.7°- +8.5°, the source can be preliminarily judged by measuring the optical rotation of the ingredients.
- Second, the degree of naturalness is different.
While many products claim to be 100% naturally sourced ingredients, a naturalness test proves the claims are true. Using carbon 14 to detect natural products can effectively identify whether theanine is a petrochemical-derived component or a naturally extracted component. For suppliers and manufacturers, the naturalness test report can improve the competitive advantage of products of natural origin and ensure the accuracy of label claims. And at the same time, it detects the proportion of natural and synthetic content and identifies the content of synthetic or petrochemical derivatives.
Food Legal Raw Materials: Look For Natural Tea Theanine
It should be emphasized that not all theanine can be added to food in China, and theanine must be obtained from tea to be legally added. Theanine produced by chemical synthesis or microbial fermentation synthesis process is still not available for food addition.
In 2014, the Ministry of Health approved tea-theanine as a new food raw material (Ministry of Health No. 15 in 2014), which required that tea be used as raw material and made by extraction, filtration, concentration, and other processes. The consumption amount is ≤0.4 g/day, and the scope of the application does not include food for infants and young children.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the distribution industry-standard QB/T 4263-2011 L-theanine, using biomass as raw material, L-theanine through biological fermentation, enzymatic conversion or extraction, and refining, the content detection method adopts point bit titration. It is the quality standard of theanine prepared by biological fermentation. This craft product is suitable for export, cosmetics, feed, and other purposes.
At present, enterprises in China that can provide theanine include:
- Shanghai Nord Biological Industry Co., Ltd.
- Wuxi Century Bioengineering Co., Ltd.
- Chengdu Huagao Biological Products Co., Ltd., etc.
Market Application Status of L Theanine Powder
Clinical trials have shown that a daily intake of L-theanine 400 mg for 6 weeks can effectively improve the sleep rate and sleep quality of ADHD boys without adverse reactions . Daily intake of theanine (200 mg) can promote the production of alpha waves in the brain and improve sleep quality in patients with anxiety
With the continuous deepening of research on the pharmacology and physiological functions of theanine researchers, many biological activities or physiological regulation functions have been discovered. Theanine has been used to develop functional foods to relieve nervous tension.
According to a previous report by CNR.com, the “2022 White Paper on China’s National Healthy Sleep,” jointly issued by China Sleep Research Association and other institutions, shows that hundreds of millions of people in my country currently suffer from sleep disorders and young adults aged 19-35 are the age group with a high incidence of sleep problems. 30% of the total population.
The ubiquitous sleep disorder has given birth to a market worth hundreds of billions. According to a report in the “First Time” column of CCTV Finance and Economics, it is estimated that by 2030, the scale of my country’s sleep economy market is expected to exceed one trillion.
Anxiety and insomnia are probably among the most common “sub-health” problems in the 21st century. Therefore, L-theanine is also a “net celebrity” functional substance widely used to solve medical and mental health problems. It mainly has soothing, sedative, and sleep-promoting effects in food form.
In addition to its function, theanine can also be used as a “bitter reducing agent,” a good raw material for improving the quality and flavor of tea beverages. Theanine has a sweet and fresh taste and is the main component of the fresh taste of tea, which can improve food flavor and suppress the bitter taste. Adding a certain amount of theanine in the production process of tea drinks can relieve the bitterness of caffeine and tea polyphenols,
ICHIMORE Sweet Sleep Nightcap
ICHIMORE launched a sweet bedtime drink, which added 110mg of tea theanine and 80mg of γ-aminobutyric acid. The main focus is sleep orientation, complex flavors, and portable packaging.
JinMei Azhenium White Solid Drink
Pamphora Group has also launched a solid beverage with Azhenium white. The products are made of dendrobium, tea theanine, white tea, ginseng (artificial planting), red bull mushroom, bird’s nest, marine fish oligopeptide powder, royal jelly freeze-dried powder, yacon culture, papaya, kudzu, polydextrose, oligosaccharides, monk fruit glycosides as the main raw materials, the main convenience, and fashion.
What Is The Reason Why Theanine Failed To Explode?
Theanine has been used as a new food raw material for 8 years, but domestic consumers are still relatively unfamiliar with theanine. Many reasons affect the development of theanine, such as industry research, corporate publicity, product iteration, promotion, etc., and the overall reason is probably several aspects:
- Consumers do not pay enough attention to anxiety and depression and are unwilling to actively seek solutions with “strong demand.”
Chinese consumers have only a superficial understanding of depression and anxiety in recent years and have not yet formed mature cognition and coping mechanisms. Moreover, in the functional publicity of products, it is difficult to promote depression, anxiety, and improved cognition. It is not the main direction of market demand, resulting in consumers’ awareness of theanine.
- The sleep aid mechanism of theanine needs long-term effects.
Traditional consumption believes falling asleep quickly after use is the core rule of sleep aid products, and consumers can intuitively feel the effect. The sleep mechanism of theanine is that after consuming it, you feel happy and relaxed, so the tense and anxious emotions are stabilized, and you feel relaxed mentally. Then go to sleep and improve the quality of sleep.
Although theanine is improved from the root, it is not significant on the surface, and the effect is not intuitive enough. Not as obvious as melatonin.
- D-theanine is shoddy.
Theanine has L-type and D-type structures, and the current efficacy research is more L-type theanine, and only L-type will have better biological activity.
In fact, the market’s mainstream is chemical and microbial fermentation synthesis of raw materials. If the D-type theanine produced by the synthesis process is not well separated, the overall efficacy of theanine will be affected. Adding unqualified raw materials to the product will also affect the consumer’s body perception and reduce trust.
In short, theanine in China is still some way from large-scale application, and it is gratifying that many domestic products have begun to use theanine one after another. They enter the market and will intuitively enhance the consumption awareness of theanine. If an explosive is out of the circle, then theanine “spring” will also come quickly.
 DI X, YAN J, ZHAO Y, et al.L-theanine protects the APP (Swedish mutation) transgenic SH-SY5Y cell against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity via inhibition of the NMDA receptor pathway[J]. Neuroscience, 2010, 168(3): 778-786.
 PARK S K. A Combination of green tea extract andL-theanine improves memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled study[J]. Journal of Medicinal Food, 2011, 14(4): 334-343.