Sunday, September 28, 2008


The word 'Heart' has no doubt enriched the English language though why this organ, the power pack behind the life of most of the living creatures, should have such an influence in the development of vocabulary in the past. When expressions like kind hearted, weak hearted, cruel hearted, heart-felt, hearty, losing the heart, heartless etc are used to portray the emotions and behaviors of humans, it is least realized that brain that controls every thing has more to do with such activities rather than the heart. It is some thing like calling a person a dog or a monkey while these poor animals never do any thing as "heartless" as many human beings! Similarly the term "chicken hearted" is commonly used to brand people with less courage though what chicken has to do with heart is not clear. Probably chicken is more courageous because it lives only to face certain slaughter eventually! It is paradoxical that one does not call a person with weak heart performance, a weak hearted one but the term is used to call a person with normal heart functions who is not tough to face difficult situations!

To day WORLD HEART DAY is being "celebrated", with the obvious objective of reminding people to keep their hearts healthy by adopting heart friendly living styles. Knowledgeable, not so knowledgeable and plain ignorant but VIPs will be spitting tons of platitudinous words on the subject. There are no two opinions regarding the seriousness of heart problems that confront mankind to day and it may be better to think about the poor heart at least once in a year though many may forget it the other 364 days at their own peril. The chilling statistics reflect the realities.

According to WHO sources, by 2010 India will have the unenviable record of becoming the top nation in cardiovascular diseases with 60% of the world's total cardiac patients being Indians. Of the 17.5 million deaths attributed to heart diseases 2 million occur in India, the urban dwellers more susceptible to this scourge, probably due to their unhealthy life styles. While the urban environment cannot be changed over night to make it more heart friendly, the food consumption habits and quality of foods eaten must be changed consciously to prevent cardiac ailments.

While on the subject one should not forget that to suffer from cardiac episodes, one need not appear to be 'fat' as being wrongly understood; even lean looking persons can also develop heart problems though the chances are less statistically. According to recent findings total body fat is not as critical as the location where it is concentrated and excessive fat deposited around organs and muscles can increase the risk of heart attack significantly. Thin people may have low subcutaneous fat but the level of non-subcutaneous fat deposit which is not visible can make a difference. Of course such claims need confirmation over a long period of observations of subjects with different physical features and health status.


Friday, September 26, 2008


Capturing and dominating the market are the goals of all commercial food processors. Some do it through innovative developments in products and technology to maintain their cutting edge superiority while many others invest their resources on brand building and promotion with lesser priority for innovations. Consumer trends and their behavior at the market place are monitored to serve as a guide for development of new products though the success rate for such products is generally low.
"Super Foods", a new jargon just emerging in the markets of rich countries, are nothing but food products made more nutritious and healthy by marrying two different category of foods to derive full benefit from their nutritional strengths for delivery through a single vehicle, most popular with the consumers. One of the hottest products now being promoted is fruit juices fortified with fish oil, unimaginable before. Of course the product does not smell because the Omega-3 fatty acid has been extracted and ultra purified from sardines and anchovies available in plenty but not consumed regularly as recommended by nutritionists because of their stinking smell. At present these fish are ground and converted to fish meal which is fed to larger animals. The technology of deodorization makes it possible to get the required active component from the fish and consumer will never notice its presence in the juice unless fore warned by the label. Consumers benefit from the ability of the product to protect them from cardio-vascular ailments while helping children in neural development. The 'HeartHealth' brand of orange juice from Tropicana is being walloped by the consumers giving further impetus to the industry to evolve such "super foods".
 Many products are in the pipe line which include green tea extracts in ginger ale, yogurt bacteria in salsa, powdered beets in peanut butter, blueberry blends that boost antioxidant properties, cherry anthocyanins that fight inflammation, green banana fibers micronized and encapsulated for blending with any foods, etc. It is not that these were not known before but improvements in technology make it possible to mix any thing with a main popular product without the consumer not able to detect by their organoleptic senses.
It is time Indian food technology comes up with a new concept in product development that will marry the ancient ayurvedic ingredients with modern popular foods to derive full benefits from both. The term nutraceuticals, coined to deflect the over dominance of the increasingly aggressive pharmaceutical industry in the every day lives of common man, can only confer legitimacy for their attempts to hijack the food oriented philosophy of our rich heritage which always propound good eating and good food for maintaining good health. With hundreds of plant and herbal parts with established health protecting properties and ability to  counteract ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular insufficiency, hyper tension, kidney disorders, skin problems, liver malfunctions etc there is no reason why Indian food technologists cannot go for a whole series of novel foods that will offer unlimited protection against many of the common diseases. Brahmi and Ashwagandha to prevent Alzheimer's, Basil, Turmeric and Neem to avoid cataract, turmeric against cancer, curry leaves against diabetes and cancer, many herbs with diverse health protecting properties need to be systematically used in new product development. Modern technology can make them flavor neutral like omega-3 rich fish oil so that these products become universally accepted. Let us call the new foods so developed "Ayush Foods", literally meaning foods that gives life and ensure that the leadership remains with the country. Any takers out there for this line of approach?   


Exercise is the surest way to try reducing body mass and combined with negative net intake of calories can be a life time option for health concerned citizen to keep diseases at bay. In an earlier piece in this blog mention was made about the work going on to explore the possibility of using a safe pill that will help those unable to take the strain of physical exercise but still need to reduce weight. Now comes another interesting news that there is a possibility that people with normal health can still manage weight loss without too much moving. The tread mill approach which made it possible for weight watchers to burn calories with out actually jogging or walking or any strenuous exercise is very popular with many people having access to them at home or nearby gymnasium. But standing on a tread mill still calls for limb movements which require some efforts.
Scientists at Stony Brook University in the US found that sitting on a buzzing platform for 15 minutes, vibrating it @90 times per second, accelerating up and down at 20% strength of earth's gravitational pull and continuing it for 15 weeks caused a weight loss of 27%. Of course this was not a human experiment and subjects were rats. Still it is difficult to ignore these findings. Scientists at Oregon State University, again the US, confirmed essentially same results with 7 month old rats and reported lower fat percentage in them after 12 weeks while there was no change in the lean muscle mass. University of Idaho scientists added another dimension to this developments by claiming that whole body vibration increased the bone density in women while reducing bone loss in hips and spine. There is along way to go before these tentative scientific findings are replicated in human beings through sound clinical trials by reputed organizations.
Whole Body Vibration (WBV) concept have several takers, especially older adults because it is claimed to be more effective in activating muscle fibers than that achieved by regular exercise regimes. The equipment just like a platform balance, available now in the market, can support a person and it is capable of sending vibratory impulses through the feet and into the rest of the body. Relaxing chairs which can be found in Air Port lounges and other places where people congregate on coin operated mode of working are already popular as the vibration generated helps to boost the blood circulation through out the body including the brain but how far they are effective in weight reduction is not clear.
30 minutes Ballroom dancing is known to burn 103-189 calories for a 65 kg adult while over 200 calories are burned during ballet and aerobic dancing. Faster pace of dancing kicks in anaerobic system of fat burning while slower movements initiate aerobic system in the body. Jogging and walking most commonly adopted by many people can burn as much as 238 calories in 30 minutes.       
It is scary to imagine young adults in their prime of life going in for the easy path of maintaining the weight through WBV machines in stead of active exercise like walking, jogging and others involving movement of all body parts because WBV will not ensure healthy joints which is possible only by active exercise regimes. It may be prudent to insist on the manufacturers of WBV machines to include a warning that "regular physical exercise is the best way to be healthy" to prevent emergence of a WBV society hardly able to move or walk, let alone do heavy jobs requiring not only strong muscles but also sound joints.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


There was a time in Indian history of recent past when protein was the center of attention amongst nutritionists because of the perceived mal nutrition due to protein deficiency in the diets, especially those based on rice.  The legendary Multi Purpose Food (MPF) based on groundnut cake and gram dal was developed by CFTRI, Mysore, primarily to address this problem. Later the emphasis shifted to Calorie-Protein malnutrition and providing adequate calories would take care of protein needs also became the basis for new strategies to tackle the nutritional problems. Thus was born the Energy Food, that too from the same agency for feeding under the government sponsored nutrition intervention programs. Fortification or supplementation of diet is a well tried out route for overcoming nutritional deficiency in the diets of common man and one of the most successful programs in the world to date is iodine fortification of edible salt under mandatory guidelines.
Way back in early seventies, the Food and Nutrition Board of GOI considered deficiency of Vitamin A and Iron as critical requiring fortification and tried several food products as delivery vehicles. These included milk and tea, thought to be consumed by all every day. Development of water soluble versions of Vitamin A in the form of acetate and palmitate esters made it possible to fortify any product but iron fortification proved much more challenging. Tea dust was sought to be enriched with Vitamin A but the practice of severe boiling of tea practically destroyed the nutrient. To day milk is the commonly accepted vehicle for Vitamin A enrichment world over, though how far in India this is effective is debatable with UHT process for milk, which does not need boiling, yet to emerge. Iron was found to be not compatible with both milk and tea as it imparted distinct taste to many products made from such iron enriched milk. The inevitability of delivering these two nutrients can be gauged by the seriousness of deficiency prevalent globally to day with 2 billion people suffering from anemia and 100 million children affected by Vitamin A deficiency. 
Salt is emerging as the most feasible vehicle for nutrient delivery because of its daily use at constant levels but development of technology for salt fortification with Vitamin A and Iron has been a challenge for a number of years till the recent break through provide by food technology. The encapsulation process known for many years was confined to flavor stabilization and it is well established in the food processing industry as a standard practice. This technology if applied to Vitamin A and Iron separately, two new ingredient can be created that will not interact with each other affecting the stability of the end product on storage. Micro encapsulation uses a spray of maltodextrines on ferrous fumerate granules to envelop each and every particle and then a further spray with vegetable oil containing Titanium Dioxide masks the undesirable brown color of the iron compound. Same technology an be used also for Vitamin A fortification of salt. 
It is heartening that salt is being now fortified with three nutrients, Iodine, Vitamin A and Iron on a limited scale to establish its efficacy and stability under a pilot program in India where 3.6 million school going children have been enrolled. It is true that bio-fortification is the best route with least logistical problems but the experience of golden rice, rich in beta carotene, achieved through genetic engineering is not very satisfying due to high degree of consumer resistance besides adversely affecting the organoleptic qualities in a significant way. 
Food technology can rightly take pride for its role in triple fortification of salt when the practice becomes universally applied providing succor to millions of children and adults from life debilitating scourges such as anemia and blindness. Food technologists must look forward for more such societal missions in future to establish their credentials in every aspect of human endeavor.      


The recent announcement by the Minister for Food Processing Industry, GOI about a grant of Rs 80 crore to Goa to set up a Mega Food Park and for other schemes, raises many questions regarding such grandiose plans drawn from time to time using public funds liberally for projects with doubtful viability. The statement says that the 'Park' will be a '' well defined agri-horticultural processing zone containing state of the art facilities with supporting infrastructure and a supply chain". Another exalted 'objective' is to make these parks " a mechanism to bring together farmers, processors and retailers and link agri production to the market". The Park is supposed to 'function' as a sourcing hub for retail outlets. Well said and the idea deserves full kudos from all, interested in development of the food sector in the country, It is another thing that the idea is not knew as being imagined because the concept originated almost 3 decades ago at Mysore when the first dedicated food industrial estate was conceived and tried, though on a smaller scale and could not be implemented fully due to many reasons.

Having patted ourselves on our back, let us take a peep at the past record of such schemes. According to the Annual Report of MoFPI (2006-07) a sum of Rs 117.68 crore has been 'released' for 54 food parks out of which 29 has been 'declared' to be operational, whatever that means. In a country where government success is measured in terms of spending the extent of budgetary allocations earmarked, the hard outputs from these investments are conveniently brushed aside. A transparent report should have touched on the status of different food parks measured against their targets and if one goes by news from secondary sources, these parks have not attained even 50% of their targeted out put. If this is the ground reality with the food park projects of the previous 3 Plans, it is beyond any body's comprehension regarding the hurry in promoting even bigger projects under the 11th Plan, calling by any name, without critically analyzing the failures and successes and arriving at right recipe for better results on future investments.

The 11th Five Year Plan envisages 30 'Mega Food Parks' and the scheme provides for 50% grant in general areas and 75% grant in special areas for setting up such Parks. In its search for a right mix of policy support under its Vision 2010 plans to increase food processing from 20% to 35%, value addition from 6% to 20%, export from 1.5 to 3% and mobilize Rs 2 lakh crore investment in food sector, many schemes are being thought of, all in terms of financial support. Most crucial component missing is how to make the government more industry friendly by removing impediments, delay, indifference and interference that is literally killing the industry. As for mega parks, the common man's impression that these are projects intended to benefit real estate agents must be removed and right entrepreneurial credentials should be the criterion for awarding such projects. Probably the land issue that vitiates many projects must be marginalized through appropriate legal provisions.

What is surprising in the present situation is how a mega park can be awarded to a state which very recently revoked its stand on SEZ in the face of opposition from people, where local agri-horticulture potential is some what limited and a modern abattoir complex considered one of the best in India, is lying idle. Besides the mega park grant, the Minister, MoFPI also announced a grant for the existing abattoir, hardly utilized for want of business, another free bee in the form of Rs 15 crore grant! It is time we realize that dolling out money is not what industry expects because good entrepreneurs do not lack funds for right projects and the industry knows that government props do not come without strings attached. What it expects is a total freedom to operate within a stable frame work of supportive policies, minimum controls and least bureaucratic influences and above all trust and confidence in the industry to fulfill its socio-economic responsibilities. The business of managing the industry is not the business of the governments at state and central levels, but managing consumer safety is its business.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The mythological Kurukshetra war was fought between Kauravas and Pandavas for the tenets of justice and it was eventually won by the latter, signifying the triumph of truth. Since Independence India has been fighting for food self sufficiency to ensure freedom from hunger to all its citizens. In a sense this was also a war, though not literally with soldiers and horses but through innovation and technology development in food production, conservation and processing. While the green revolution was able to raise food production to new heights, meeting indigenous needs till recently, appropriate post harvest technological developments achieved break throughs in waste reduction, quality improvements, value addition and diversification of products to meet the palates of the population.
There are thousands of foot soldiers, captains, commanders and generals in this 'food war' as there were in the Kurukshetra war of yester years and the country owes them eternal gratitude for their 'sacrifice'. If one is o pick up the pancha pandavas in this war, the exercise is bound be controversial. In the India of to day, awards and recognition are actively or subtly sought in stead of being conferred, whether it is national, state level or private sponsored ones. Probably such a situation may exist in other countries and at international levels also. But in the current exercise, an attempt is made only to remember a few stalwarts, some even alive to day and others part of history.
The pancha pandavas who were responsible for what this country was able to achieve in the food front to day include late Dr V Subrahmanian, Dr H A B Parpia, Dr M Swaminathan, late Dr A N Bose and Prof D V Rege. The occasion to remember them is the completion of the golden jubilee by AFST(I), founded by late V Subrahmanian to invigorate the scientific fraternity engaged in food research and development in the nascent India during late fifties through collective thinking and action. These five highly respected scienists contributed directly as well as through inspiration a sound base for fundamental research in food production, development of technology for conservation and processing and human resources development for R & D and manufacturing industry.
No praise is too high for Dr Swaminathan who led the green revolution with a dedicated band of agriculture scientists leading to a quantum jump in production of cereals like rice and wheat. A living legend to day he is the symbol of what dedication, perseverance and commitment can achieve even in a poor country like India. Late Dr V Subrahmanian, the founder Director of CFTRI can be rightly considered as the father of food technology in India and built a core group of developmental scientists to develop indigenous technology for many crucial products like infant food and establish a credible infrastructure for food R & D of contemporary standard. Dr Parpia, who succeeded Dr Subrahmanian as the second Director of CFTRI, was instrumental in expanding the scope and reach of Indian food research far and wide. Country should be thankful to him for making the R & D assume a critical mass and massive infusion of technology into the food industry. The international food technology training center established with FAO collaboration under his regime, gave India a global status and hundreds of food technologists from India to day man important positions in many countries in Asia, Africa and South America.  Prof A N Bose, the pioneering fish technologist gave new orientation to fish foods related technology through his leadership in Fisheries Technology Institute at Kochi, besides giving impetus to training in the east as vice chancellor of Jadavpur University.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Indian cuisines are supposed to be sought after in many countries and presence of ethnic restaurants in every part of the world is cited as evidence for this tall claim. How ever the reality is that all these restaurants are patronized by spice starved Indian immigrants who  become miserable if their native food is not consumed for 2-3 days. If one critically looks at the customers in any of these restaurants less than 5% are non-Indians, reflecting the reality that there are few takers of Indian foods from citizens of other countries. When Chinese and Mexican foods are being walloped without any reservations by millions of customers in thousands of restaurants specialized in these foods, why no major initiative is forthcoming from the much vaunted Indian entrepreneurship, known world over during the last two decades, in this area?
One of the drawbacks commonly noticed in Indian eateries is the low priority accorded to presentation and cleanliness which Indian customers may accept but not others, used to ultra clean food outlets and ambiance which are standard features of such eateries. If customers flock to McDonald's, Pizza Huts, Taco Bells, KFCs and other eating chains in USA or Europe it i only due to the confidence on the foods served by them, especially the consistent quality and safety associated with them. Another aspect which deserves attention is the high degree of standardization achieved by these food chains that ensures assured patron ship from discerning customers. But Indian foods widely differ in quality from one restaurant to another affecting the the expectations of customers causing disappointment and reluctance in trying them again in future. The reported success of more than 10000 pubs in UK where papads and similar products are commonly served does not say anything because liquor guzzling customers cannot be connoisseurs of good food.
There is an urgent need to look into the above aspects and take up work to evolve a distinct Indian eatery model similar to Taco Bell set up which involves, product identification, recipe standardization, standardization of the preparation mode, equipment design suiting the requirements of eateries, short term preservation, serving mode and presentation for both in place and take out customers. It should be possible to coin a name reflecing Indian origin such 'Roti Pan' or 'Roti Dhaba' or 'Roti Bowl' or 'Roti Nest' or 'Tandoor'  or any other suitable one. Roti is Indian in every respect and products built around roti similar to tortilla based Mexican foods can form the basis for the venture. There can be products like Roti Beans, Roti Alu, Roti Cheese, Roti Curry, Roti Subji, Roti Dal etc. A standard restaurant model will have to be evolved with minimum real estate requirement. Exiting players like ITC, Taj, Oberoi etc can go for larger models while others with experience but with lesser resources may adopt smaller models. The question is who will bell the cat? Why not the Ministry of food Processing Industry or APEDA?      
Late Mr Abraham, the founder of famous Bangalore based Bolsts Condiments was able to promote a series of Bolsts Curry House eateries in Japan in eighties but it is not known whether they are still surviving to day. If a single entrepreneur can succeed, why not others with far more resources than him? Walking into an Indian restaurant with out trepidation about the food and the environment in a foreign country and sharing with citizens of other countries, should be a pleasant experience. This will make Indian food universally accepted and sought after, about which every Indian could be proud of.   

Monday, September 22, 2008


Hardly a week ago this blogger wrote about the David Vs Goliath piece referring to the changes taking place in the market place in the country in the face of determined onslaught by global retailers in the retail sector with large investments. It was mentioned that the unorganized retail sector will be hard to beat in this war for the hearts and minds of the consumers. Lo, here comes the news in to day's Deccan Chronicle under the banner " Indian Retail hits a road block". According to the analysis of its reporter Ms Sangeetha Chengappa the growth of organized retailing which was growing at @13% annually, is not able to sustain this for various reasons such as inability by many players to break even, low sales volumes, low profit margins, exorbitant real estate rentals and inevitable locational mismatch. Though it is too early to predict a total collapse, the indications are that many smaller players will sell out their operations to big fishes having deep pockets. Decently put, it means a large scale reorganization with the avowed objective of consolidation and redesign of the retail formats more relevant to the country with a higher chance of success. Naturally many small operators who adopted the modern retailing format with large investments will have to lower their shutters and take to the escape route.

It is not that one enjoys seeing such unfortunate developments but concern is there whether adequate home work was done before investing in a market like that in India which is tradition bound and slow to change, with old habits ingrained deeply in their ethos. A better strategy would have been to set up shops for wholesale or bulk marketing providing umbrella to the millions of traders as resource centers and evolve a 'live and let live' strategy. Indians have a history of tremendous tolerance, deep loyalty and high sense of compassion. These traits make it difficult to break the hold of their family traders on their mind and heart so easily. That is why it was felt that the unorganized traders will never disappear from the Indian landscape, in spite of the daunting muscles on display by the multinational retail giants.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


Roti ,being a staple especially in the north, is made effortlessly by the house wives for ages without using any mechanical contraptions as hand rolled rotis are preferred to that made in some improvised hand presses. The type of wheat to be used, its desirable quality, washing and sun drying, grinding in chakki, dough making, rolling into round sheets and baking are part of the day to day life of all wheat eating populations. The variants of roti like parotha, nan, tandoori, etc are also based on wheat made regularly in many house holds in India.

Mexicans have stolen a march over Indians in evolving mechanical devices for making a product called tortilla based on maize and the tortilla making machine is a standard fixture in many many parts of that country. The revolutionary evolution of Mexican restaurants and world wide acceptance of the foods originating from that country like Burritos, Quesadillas, Nachos, Chalupa, Guacamole etc has spread the popularity of these foods, pioneered by Tacobell chain of restaurants in USA and other parts of the world. Tortilla making was originally by hand but design of compact machines with varying capacities to suit all pockets made it possible to make freshly pressed tortilla, untouched by hand, in any quantities at any place. In many Mexican restaurants Tortilla is made fresh in front of the customers for serving hot.

It took almost 50 years after independence for India to come up with a machine that can make mechanized roti designed by the Mysore based CFTRI and plants with 1500-2000 rotis per hour capacity are being offered by some equipment makers in the country. Though the roti plant delivers a product looking like roti, its sensory qualities leave much to be desired. The plant, based on extrusion sheeting, cutting into round discs with recycling provision for the scraps, toasting on belts under direct firing by gas based burners and cooling, has some electronic controls though not to the desired extent. The plant being made by a couple of fabricators suffers from too frequent break downs and early wear and tear of the parts. The biggest draw back is the dramatic change in textural quality of the product after 24 hours of making. The product dries fast and breaks during serving, when supplied to institutional buyers making it unacceptable to the consumers at large. Though many units have been set up, their working status is still uncertain though several of them are known to be lying idle.

Why does such things happen in India? One possible reason could be the system of R & D that exists in the country which is highly bureaucratized and works with the speed of a tortoise. Keeping away the user industry under the pretext that the designs are to be patented, naturally will result in a technology that has never been tested under industrial conditions which only can bring out design flaws that need rectification. Within the R & D group there is a high degree of segmentation with different specialization and limited inter group interaction can leave many flaws unnoticed before giving to the user industry. In this particular case inputs from wheat technologists during development could have avoided the problem that has grounded most of the plants installed. The tendency for retrogradation of starch in roti is well known and overcoming this phenomenon lies within the purview of wheat scientists. Why not scientific community forget about their ego and self interests while developing technology like this for the sake of the consumer, industry and the country?

Sheeting by passing the dough between rolls has also been tried without much success. Similarly pressing the dough between plates to get thin round sheets also did not succeed. Roti is thus not a simple product and requires multidisciplinary inputs to overcome the problems encountered in designing systems for large scale manufacture. Besides rolling, toasting also is not a simple operation as conduction heating only gives best results where as large scale plants depend on a combination of conduction and convection heating to get a fully toasted product, not easily acceptable to roti eaters. Last word has not yet been heard on roti plant but unless the development work is taken up as a collective effort with close association with industry, it will be a long wait before a fully functional and hassle free roti plant emerges. Or may be, the industry will have to look to Taiwan or Korea for developing such a plant!



In a country where native foods hardly command any attention from food scientists, the news report appearing in the print media regarding the work of scientists in National Dairy Research Institute, Regional Center(NDRI) at Bangalore on extending the shelf-life of some milk based products popular in Orissa deserves kudos. The relentless neglect of traditional foods and traditional food technology has created a void as far as scientific information and data on these foods are concerned. Though as a country India is free from foreign rule and domination, the food research still has colonial hang over with the western influence predominating the minds of food scientists in their endeavor. Except for occasional ritualistic seminars, nothing worth while has been accomplished in the area of traditional foods within the country. It is a tragedy that modern research techniques and tools available are not applied to unravel the mystery that still defy attempts by food engineers to come up with equipment for mass production.

The products referred here are Chhana Podo and Chhana Jhili, specialty sweet delicacies from Orissa, considered unique in taste and texture. The work of the scientists at NDRI might not be earth-shaking but significant in many ways. It is a good thing that there are still scientists who consider research in traditional foods interesting. The products are not of national importance compared to Bengali sweets but still there is an interest. The modified product developed with extended shelf life is available to the consumers in at least Bangalore readily for consumption in NDRI Parlor, reflecting the confidence of the scientists on their work unlike other R & D agencies who either go for patenting or academic publications with no impact on the industry. Even though the results are not dramatic since the shelf life could be extended only by a few days, it can lead to further developments eventually resulting in a product with long life under ambient conditions. According to the claims by NDRI scientists Chhana Podi can now be kept at ambient conditions for a week as against 2-3 days at present, the shelf life reaching more than a month under refrigeration. This will give adequate elbow room to the industry to expand the marketing reach further.

The parlor concept at NDRI institutions is a remarkable innovation which must be adopted by others if they are really interested in technology transfer to the industry. Seeing is believing and the parlors do give the entrepreneurs and consumers a chance to see what is new and whether it is workable or not. This is in contrast to the approach by others to refer the entrepreneurs to their 'Show Case' or libraries for any information in the form of publications and patents. One of the major reasons for the failure of most technology is the difficulty in accessing to the know how and do-how and lack of transparency in dialogs with entrepreneurs. Technology transfer is an engaged process where the industry do need escort services, especially in new technological areas which is not forthcoming from most of the R & D agencies. If this is realized by those at the helm of affairs, there is a further need to extend the concept to setting up a dedicated general processing facility at each R & D center to demonstrate the actual process for any products developed to interested entrepreneurs to have the 'convincing' impact.

NDRI must broaden their foray further into traditional foods, even those containing no milk and apply their experience for the benefit of food industry at large. Can we expect more such good news from them? Consumer can only hope and leave the rest to the scientists.


Friday, September 19, 2008


In an earlier publication, the tragedy of melamine tainted milk in China was reported with some critical comments on that country's system of governance. It was not known at that time how grave the situation was and the whole episode was considered as a minor one with limited impact locally. Now that the full dimension of the tragedy is unfolding, the earlier comments in this blog is not considered in good taste though the substance of the critique does not change.
In the latest twist to the melamine tainted milk tragedy, four children are reported to have died already and more than 8000 children are struggling in various hospitals with heavy kidney damage. More than 60 dairy plants have been closed and mothers are running around looking for milk to feed their children. The Chairperson of the Sanlu Group Company might have been fired and many heads will roll from the 22 companies involved in this mishap but will it revive the life of those already died or repair the damage inflicted on others?. People who supplied the tainted milk have been apprehended and the authorities claim that they have confessed to the heinous crime. The ostensible reason has been cited as severe financial losses suffered by them on earlier occasion in their milk business which were sought to be recovered through this devious means. It is moot point whether the culprits were aware of the lethal consequences of mixing melamine or it is just ignorance that made them do what is reprehensible.  
A larger question that looms against this unfortunate accident is whether the consequences will be confined to within the borders of that country or it is going to affect other countries also. The reported export of the contaminated milk powder to poor countries like Bangladesh, Burundi, Gabon, Myanmar and Yemen, with practically no worth while safety vigilance systems, must be viewed with alarm. It is a lesson for countries like India not to lower the guard when it comes to import of foods from any outside source and no special consideration needs to be shown to exempt such imports from domestic food laws. WTO must step in to tackle this problem by helping poorer countries to put in place strong safety monitoring systems and prevent such avoidable tragedies.   


This Blog was created to fill a void felt by many that restricted free expression of views and interaction amongst food professional without any formal format. Most of the topics covered here are targeted at readers who may be technically knowledgeable or general public who are interested in many aspects of food. The language used is neither too technical nor pedestrian but designed to convey what this blogger feels about various subjects coming in the realm of food production, conservation, processing, distribution, marketing, nutrition, health, government policies and all aspects concerning food in India as well as in the international arena. Though at times the language may appear harsh which reflects the intense feelings of the blogger, it is never intended to deliberately hurt or insinuate any one.

One of the pre-requisites for successful blogging is wide readership but more than that the response by the readers through comments enriches the value several fold. In food area there are very limited forums for free and frank discussions and human beings, with creative thinking and an active brain cannot sit idle even if the 60 year age mark might label them as retired! Publishing in a Blog is a two way process leading to multiple dialogs. The result is creation of maximum awareness and spread of education amongst those eager to understand the frontiers of development.

In the light of the above, it is hoped that all readers will post their comments and without reservation these comments will be published, the only precondition being that the language must be as civil as possible. Readers are also welcome to send their stand alone publications in brief and if relevant will be published in their name. Youngsters are encouraged to send their views which will be moderated to reflect the real intention of the senders and thereby get exposed to good writing experience.

Geriatricians feel that old age should not be allowed to overwhelm people and engaging in activities that stimulate brain cells is best way to keep boredom and diseases away. This is not a project for self aggrandisement or personal glorification, especially for a person in the evening of his life but a genuine attempt in sharing decades of experience, both good as well as bad. Let the food fraternity come together to advance the cause of food science, technology and nutrition and benefit the Society.



When more than two people meet there has to be a subject for conversation and the duration of such meetings will depend on the level of communication skill and knowledge each commands. When the number becomes more than two there has to be a structured agenda for discussion to prevent unproductive pronouncements and cross purpose talks. The need for such structured meetings has evolved into group meetings when people in hundreds or thousands can meet and interact in an orderly manner with a focused agenda and target. While seminars and workshops are mostly on technical, economic or social subjects, conferences and conventions are more or less confined to formal meetings by bureaucratic and political class respectively. Of course there are not hard and fast rules on this segmentation and any organization can have any of the above modus operandi to conduct their meetings.

The proposed IFCON 2008 scheduled to be organized by the Mysore based food professional body, AFST(I) was originally started as a conference in 1984 at B'lore but got branded as a convention for reasons which are not very clear though it does not make much difference either way. The only issue is whether the seriousness of this technical event is some what diluted by its transition from conference to convention mode. IFCONs of AFST(I) have become more an occasion for social mixing rather than any technical accomplishments as no records are published about the proceedings and no serious follow up of the recommendations is evident in the recent past. The fact that it is continued to be ignored by the policy makers is evident from lack of sizable financial, logistical or moral support from the governments or the food industry, probably knowing fully well that nothing worth while is going to be achieved by the 3-5 days extravaganza. More over the tendency to organize IFCONs at Mysore which is not easily accessible is a constraint for many industry captains to partake in such a technical gathering where, at least theoretically, cream of the food scientists, technologists and nutrition experts world over are sought to be brought together. 

AFST(I), established more than 50 years ago, with more than 2000 active members on their roll, has not been able to realize its full potential as reflected by its almost total isolation from the mainstream food industry activities and invariably eclipsed by self seeking, power wielding technocratic bureaucrats, with an agenda of their own ignoring the broader interest of the Association in promoting the subject. Though a Banyan tree can provide shade at the initial stage, it will not allow any thing to grow beyond a certain level and AFST(I) is no exception suffering from such a syndrome in its present 'avatar'. The identity crisis facing this organization is so serious that the collective strength offered by it through its innumerable and diversified experts is not duly recognized by the industry or the Governments or the consumers. If India does not have a place in the comity of nations excelling in food technology, a significant share of the blame goes to this atrophied organization which was not able to make its voice heard or presence felt within the country, let alone internationally. Probably this may be the reason why IFCONs have become largely gatherings for University students and academia with least technical content and practically zero impact.
The explosive development of Internet communication mode makes it possible to access to any information on any subject within a few seconds by tapping the key board and obviously information dissemination does not need to be through conventions and seminars. But IFCONs do serve a purpose of social networking where old friendship is renewed and new ones are forged and technical platform certainly provides justification for participation. If they are to be powerful tools of transformation in the food landscape of the country, much more serious efforts are called for and peers and stalwarts in the field will have to take more interest to raise the credibility of this technical body. AFST(I) has to emulate the yeomen achievements of another technical body viz Institution of Engineers which has its presence in all parts of the country, attracting and energizing local talents. As a strong and technically powerful body, AFST(I) must be heard and listened to by governments, industry and the consumers for the good of the country. They have a blue print and all it needs is vision, dynamism and hard work for which people with impeccable track records will have to take the lead. God bless AFST(I).   

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The four basic tastes reflecting sensations like sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness are universally recognized. Japanese claim that a fifth taste exists that is characteristic of meat and cheese or proteins, they call 'umami'. Why India and Mexico did not press for the 'pungency' sensation is not clear. Physiologically each of these tastes is supposed to regulate the satiety factor that controls the food intake and maintain homeostasis. During the last decade many startling developments through scientific endeavor have forced food scientists to modify the current thinking on human response to various foods. Sugar delivered through solid foods and beverages behaves differently is unthinkable but for some data available to day regarding its role in obesity. High Fructose Corn Syrup ( HFCS), an ingredient in soft drinks is presumed to be responsible for the urge to over eat resulting in uncontrolled weight gain. Some how the sugar
in HFCS fails to signal satiety leading to intake of more without actual need and excess energy is diverted to fat synthesis and accumulation in the body. 
Sugar and the sweet sensation it provides are universally enjoyed without exception all over the world. But it also is a causative factor for many health disorders making it suspect in the eyes of many consumers. Diabetes and obesity are two health conditions that force people to cut down on foods rich in sugar. Availability of alternate sweeteners like Saccharine, Aspartame, Neotame, Sucralose, Stevia glycosides and a few others, all of them controversial with some people entertaining reservations about their safety, are used to varying extent to satisfy the sweet palates by sugar compromised population. The scientific discovery that the intensity of sweet taste sensation by sucrose can be attenuated by some chemicals in trace amounts is going to revive the fortunes of sugar industry when commercially exploited. The chemical being made by the US company Senomyx can replace volumes of sugar with minute quantities. Coke and Cadbury are already
gearing up to take this route to reduce the quantity of sugar considerably in their products immediately. Some news for cheering up diabetics!
Salt, another culprit damned by the nutrition experts for health impairment due to blood pressure which is becoming a major epidemic causing other complications like heart and kidney diseases, also can be reduced in snack and savory products without sacrificing the taste by using another chemical discovered by Senomyx. This development will certainly revolutionize the industry giving it fresh lease of life. While sweetness is easy to be shunned, restricting salt in foods is much more difficult. Use of Potassium chloride is common to reduce sodium content in foods but cost-wise it is not considered a viable alternative.  Jumbing into this bandwagon, Nestle is already using the flavor modulator in their savory products. Conscious and some times aggressive programs in many countries to bring down salt consumption voluntarily are not making the desired progress and the Senomyx chemical will help them to reach their targets. Globally this is a welcome
news for the consumers.

Senomyx which has a library of 5 lakh synthetic chemicals and natural compounds will be remembered for their contribution to the global effort in combating life debilitating afflictions like diabetes and hypertension. Some of the chemicals with them are also have sparing effect on 'feel cool' flavors like menthol, 'feel fatty' tastes and feel creamy sensations. Taste buds embedded in papilla, spread across the tongue ( the bumps) can sense all flavors. Taste enhancer molecules strengthen the likelihood that sugar molecules and receptors will bind properly, intensifying the sweet sensation even if only few sugar molecules are present. Related to this is the possibility of blocking bitterness in cocoa based products or reducing  pungency in high chili products or reducing acidity in highly sour products like some juices.
The safety of these chemicals does not seem to be an issue as they are used in minute quantities not requiring the elaborate safety evacuation and mandatory approval. While the above development appears to be exiting, how far the consumers will condescend to this revolutionary new approach and accept the products unreservedly remains to be seen. 


While the reality of hunger has captured attention of the world because of its potential for chaos and anarchy if not tackled globally through cooperation amongst rich and poor nations, the dramatic shrinking of available fresh water for human survival is hardly noticed except in water starved countries like Israel and others in arid region. According to reliable estimates more than 1 billion people suffer from inadequate access to safe water and by 2050, 50% of the global population will face water scarcity. Quantity-wise water is available in plenty in this planet but not in a condition to be used for safe living. Faulty waste disposal practices, release of industrial pollutants into the land and water bodies, fertilizer run off, coastal influx of salt water with aquifers and faster depletion of ground water due to over exploitation are continuously reducing water availability for consumption and use for daily chores.

Average annual per capita need of water is estimated to be 1000 meter cube with affluent countries guzzling more than the average figure while most in developing countries do not even get a fraction of this. Total world requirement of water was 3350 kilometer cube in 1998 which will rise to 4900 km cube by 2050 but will dramatically go up to 9250 km cube if the income levels in middle income countries rises as per the present trend. Global warming due to indiscriminate and uncontrolled emission of green house gases and endless deforrestation activities, is presumed to be responsible for 35% reduction in rains which provide most of the fresh water for all the living creatures on this earth. Is this planet ready to face these critical realities and avoid a situation that will spawn new wars amongst the communities, provinces, countries, regions and continents over water?

Better irrigation system, more intensive use of recycling technology, rationalization of cropping policies, virtual water concept of exporting food from water rich to water starved countries, setting aside the Utopian dream of self reliance by every country and massive desalination of sea water all can alleviate the water crisis waiting to happen in the near future. A shift from water 'guzzling' crops to water 'sipping' ones is inevitable to reduce avoidable waste of this precious life sustainer. Modified water delivery system by direct dropping of water to the roots and use of mesh nets to stop evaporation especially in dry areas as being practiced in Israel deserve adoption in many parts of the world. Water reclamation from sea and brackish water bodies using highly efficient membranes and with low energy consumption requires enormous investments in future as quantum wise this is an inexhaustible source of water. The waste water coming from billions of house holds across the world cannot be wasted and better technology can achieve purification and recycling, much beyond any body's imagination.

It is a good sign that global cooperative programs are emerging especially amongst countries most affected by water crisis. Saudi Arabia is reported to be shopping around for farmland in more fertile countries like Sudan and Pakistan and with no resource constraint the model of cooperation is certain to succeed as there is political as well as religious alignment amongst these countries. Similarly the reported foray by India into Central Asia, Africa and South America for commercial cultivation of oil seeds has also a fair chance of success for economic reasons. Such examples are worth replication across the globe in the coming years pushing individual agenda of countries involved, to the background for the sake of future generation.

World needs to be seen as a global village with no one immune to suffering from water shortage if collectively this problem is not tackled. R & D efforts must be multiplied manifold on all aspects of water conservation, extraction and optimized use. Investment on water related programs as a percentage of GDP of each country must have relationship to its agricultural GDP and such a policy decision cannot be postponed further. Even a conservative estimate indicates that on an average $ 1 trillion investment per year through 2030 is called for. This is hardly $ 120 annual per capita expenditure which is reasonable. While poor countries may not be able to mobilize vast funds, others with higher affordability must pitch in, to make up for the shortfall. International organizations like FAO, WHO, UNICEF, WORLD BANK, IMF and other bodies must wake up to this reality and take up the leadership to evolve a new world order where each global citizen is assured of the minimum water required to live a decent life with dignity.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Foreign investments in the retail sector are not yet welcome in India as the GOI policy does not allow 100% owned foreign entities to operate in the country in this area. But some of the global giants are already planning to enter one of the largest markets in the world through joint venture route. The success of Metro Cash and Carry so far is a pointer towards future direction of movement as far as foreign investors are concerned. Domestic players like Reliance, Godrej, Tatas, Bharti all are rushing into this sector with some sort of tie-up with foreign retailing organizations from where expertise and experience can be sourced.

So far only 2% of the retail market has been cornered by the so called organized sector (super markets, hyper markets and Departmental Stores) but this is predicted to grow into an avalanche once the sector is opened to foreign investments. If one goes by the statistics put out by different agencies there are about 8-12 million retail outlets in the unorganized sector though no one knows the exact figure in the absence of a centralized documentation system in the country. While it is understandable why foreign players are eager to enter India, what is not comprehensible is how thay can replace these traditional small traders who have become an inseparable part of the landscape of this country. They have carved out for themselves a niche place in the hearts of the consumers through tremendous good will and personalized services. Whatever limited impact the big retailers have been able to make is limited to a few urban pockets where there is large population density. The scope for replicating models of retailing prevalent in Europe, USA and other well to do countries is rather limited in India because of constraints of transportation and restricted mobility with low per capita automobile ownership, vital for access to large shopping facilities. The sky high real estate rates and non-availability of ready land, are further dampeners to the ambitions of big players. Ultimately the high over head costs due to the sheer size of the operations might not be offset by the scale of economy achieved by the big retailers as being hoped.

Against this background comes the news that the small traders are organizing themselves to face the potential challenge ahead in the retail market through meaningful strategic actions. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) in collaboration with India Retail School is launching a project to train small traders to position themselves as worthy competitors to the big retail giants. The plan is to introduce the small traders to subjects like visual merchandise, better servicing of customers, marketing strategies and better monitoring of their operations. CAIT wants to set up 500 schools in different parts of the country to benefit more than 5 million traditional traders through attitudinal changes, adoption of contemporary approach in business and retention of their core customers. The one month duration course is claimed to be tailored to suit the convenience of the traders by conducting instructions twice a week, mostly during midday for two hours each.

While this is a welcome move and timely, how far it will be effective will depend on the response from the traders. One.of the inadequacies of the small trader system is indifferent quality of products, some times even adversely affecting the safety of the products catered by them. The common association of trading community with adulteration by many consumers has tarnished their image which needs urgent refurbishing. Similarly for sharing the aspirations and expectations of the consumers needs an understanding of the consumer mind and a helpful attitude to go an extra mile to make him happy will be a long term investment that will guarantee business and loyalty. Honesty and transparency must be the foundation for establishing a long lasting relationship and the small retailing shops have a built in advantage in the form of personalized equation with each customer which can never be possible in organized retailing format.

No doubt, David is bound to prevail eventually against Goliath in this unequal fight for the minds of the consumers in India! Long live David!



10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1983, seven since 1990 and global temperature was hottest in the year 1998. A remarkable record for a world bent on forsaking the future for to day's comforts. The warming phenomenon is being attributed to the ecological disaster man has created for himself by thoughtless and short sighted actions. The green house gas emissions, most important contributory factor for global warming have not received the attention it needs, especially in industrially developed countries which account for 80% of these emissions. Massive spewing of CO2, one of the main culprits is a corollary to the modern energy intensive living styles and some sacrifice is necessary if any modicum of control on emission can be achieved. No wonder USA, the major environment pollution nation in this planet is not a signatory to the Kyoto Agreement which has set a goal for controlling emissions on a long term basis and it is no wonder that this country had to face massive floods, droughts and hurricanes in the last few years, causing miseries to millions of people. The tragedy is that no lesson has been learned in spite of the above disasters and USA still remains recalcitrant as far as climate control is concerned.

Food industry has a strong moral responsibility to share the concerns of human beings vis-a-vis tragedies brought about by mindless destruction of nature. As CO2 emission is considered a critical pollutant, its control assumes significance at micro as well as macro levels. Compared to power plants and other high pollution industry, food processing does not contribute much to the emission problem but still doing its part in the global landscape to ameliorate the situation will be applauded. It is in this context the concept of 'Carbon Neutral Foods' (CNF) was evolved and New Zealand leads the world in this endeavor. The jargon used in this context means that foods produced will not have net CO2 debit when they reach the consumer. It is known that CO2 is generated at different stages of food production, packing, transport etc and the extent pollution depends on the industry and its efficiency in deploying technology for reducing the emission. While it is not possible to bring down CO2 emission to zero, it can definitely be reduced to unavoidable minimum by suitable corrective actions.

Pitango of Auckland in New Zealand became the first CNF company which sells risottos, curries and porridge nationally, involving raw produce procurement, bringing to the processing location, processing into finished products and distribution all over the country. Each operation emits CO2 and the total emission was worked out initially. By systematic CO2 emission auditing, the company optimized all its operations to curtail CO2 emission to the maximum extent possible. Then it partnered with local farmers to change some of the agricultural practices and improve transportation methods to drastically bring down emission of CO2. Further it invested in projects for preservation of greenery, reafforestation and renewable energy that will capture/reduce CO2 emission equivalent to the quantum it has released because of its manufacturing activities. Though this is a drop in the ocean, the concept is based on the philosophy that many a drop makes an ocean!

Is this conceivable in India where sensitivity to public agony is at a very low level with each individual engrossed in tackling the day to day problems of his own rather than loosing sleep on pollution and weather changes?. Why not? It all depends on incentives that can be put in place to attract adherents to the concept of CNF. Availability of technology for wind power, solar power, heat recycling and geothermal energy exploitation if effectively used will reduce CO2 emission very significantly and association of the industry with projects for afforestation and similar green projects can make a significant impact nationally. Industry leadership and governmental support must converge for realizing the objectives of transforming the country a model state in this field and ensure a much safer environment for future generation.


Monday, September 15, 2008


It is universally accepted that mother's milk is best for the baby due to many reasons. It helps to bond the mother and the baby. The immunity conferred on the baby by mother's milk is unparalleled. The low curd tension in the GI tract of the baby obviates uneasiness and stomach pains. The bifidus bacteria provides protection against stomach infections. Experts recommend postponing feeding with cows milk or formulated infant foods as long as possible to derive maximum benefits from nature's bounty conferred on every mother on child birth. The recent reports of Bis phenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical used in polycarbonate feeding bottles, getting leached out into milk make it all the more imperative to feed the infants with mother's milk.

There are instances when mothers are not able to provide the milk to their children necessitating bottle feeding. The recent findings indicate that when the baby cries there is an increased surge of activity in a broad range of brain regions, including the amygdala which is known to play a role in governing emotional states. This may increase her ability to produce more milk to meet the needs of the baby adequately. The old saying that 'only crying baby gets milk' may yet be true scientifically.Birth, other than natural, alters significantly the neurohormonal experience of natural birth that creates intense bonding. Mothers undergoing C-section delivery invariably finds it difficult to experience this bonding and that is why doctors recommend fondling of the new borns by the mother, immediately after the operation by cuddling against their skin. This probably serves the purpose of establishing bonding and feeling the need for mothers to feed their babies.

Another aspect which has caught the attention of the scientists is the influence of mother's milk on the development of the palate in their children. Those who eat variety foods with different flavors and taste tend to pass on these traits to the infants through their milk as the latter get tuned to the diverse foods more easily and during the growth phase continue to enjoy consuming these foods. Many flavors have been found to be transferred in small quantities to the baby through the milk thus exposing it to new taste sensations. Bottle fed babies never have this opportunity as the formula milk products are bland in taste with practically no variations Probably infant food industry might come out with flavored products if these findings confirmed by further studies. It is believed that breast feeding primes the infants to accept more readily new flavors when they start on their solid foods. Israel scientists claim that people who were fed mothers' milk when they were babies lived without significant incidence of heart attack while in UK higher IQ and societal achievements are being attributed to breast fed babies when they grow into adults.

In spite of the above rosy picture, there are instances when mother's milk does cause problems to new born infants. Lactose intolerance some time temporarily makes milk unacceptable, alternative being formulated milk mostly based on soybean. Many babies experience dehydration after feeding on breast milk and such situations can even be fatal to the baby when it crosses the critical mark of 10% weight loss. Precise cause is still not known though such babies had high sodium content in their blood after feeding on mother's milk, beyond 150 milliequivalent. The mothers' milk also was found to be high in sodium content though what causes such aberrations is not clear.


Sunday, September 14, 2008


Goa is famous for its Feni, the distilled liquor prepared by alcoholic fermentation of cashew apple which is unique to this region. The cottage scale industry that makes Feni is traditional in nature marked by skill and experience. It is not clear why this product has not attracted big brewers who control the spirit industry in the country. One of the reasons could be the logistics of sourcing the fruit as the harvesting time is influenced by the maturity of the nut and invariably only fallen fruits are available for fermentation. But its value is internationally recognized as no where else in the world Feni is known to be made.

Mexico has also a unique alcoholic beverage called Tequila which is made from Agave which is a rich source of inulin, a poly fructosan. There are 130 species of Agave though most commonly used is Agave tequilana. Inulin on hydrolysis yields fructose which is considered sweeter than sucrose. Yeast fermentation is generally carried out using glucose as the source of sugar. Starch sources such as tapioca, maize, rice, wheat sorghum all yield glucose on hydrolysis. On the other hand molasses, a rich source of glucose and fructose, is commercially used to produce alcohol for both industrial and IMF liquors. Mexican producers of Tequila boast of special strains of yeast that converts fructose into alcohol efficiently and is considered a secret.

The process includes roasting, shredding, pressing out the juice, addition of yeast inocculum and fermentation for 30-48 hours followed by distillation in copper stills to get a product of 70-110 proof strength. One kg of Agave pinas yields 1 liter of juice containing 90% inulin. A typical Agave pina weighs 20 to 80 kg. There is always the question as to why this material is not used as a sweetener in food products but its traditional use to make Tequila is based on higher value addition and national pride. Besides use of fructose in foods is clouded with uncertainties regarding its suspected adverse effect in human system. Though it has a low GI of 27, its consumption is reported to be responsible for high triglyceride and LDL levels in human beings. Fructose consumption is also linked to interference with hormone signals associated with satiety leading to over eating. Similarly consumption of fructose after a heavy meal raises its GI value
dramatically. Probably these findings, though not universally accepted, make the Tequila production in Mexico a blessing in disguise as the plentiful supply of Agave is economically utilized! 


The eternal patience and tolerance, in a country where Hindu, Buddhist and Jain philosophy converged hundreds of years ago, allow freedom to its citizens to do what ever is ethical and unobtrusive to others in the society. With the political system presently being practiced in the country often creating desperation and frustration amongst  peaceful citizens, the country is slowly loosing its bearings regarding its future. It is a common trait to see things crumbling before the eyes and even a small gain gets amplified several fold, forgetting that tons of opportunities have already been lost for ever because of short sightedness and lack of vision amongst the ruling elite, setting the country backward in its quest for peace and prosperity. 
'Regularization' is a buzz word for any thing done wrongfully, mocking the law of the country and squandering public money and resources. Be it encroachment or land grabbing or violence or any other deeds not in consonance with societal norms, they are easily condoned/accommodated without allowing the law to take its course. The recent massive write off in case of agricultural loans or paying public money for sectarian purpose or provision of Non Productive Assets(NPA) in the banking system to write off loans to influential persons, all reflect the great libertarian philosophy of the country.
One may wonder what this has to do with street vending. If considered dispassionately street vendors grossly violate the basic principle that streets are not meant to do business as it is public facility for the citizens to be mobile without hindrance. More over food is not meant to be cooked or served in the open for safety reasons. In early nineties a study in Penang, Malaysia clearly brought out the dangers of road side vending when the foods served were found to contain high traces of lead and other elements from the automobile exhausts. Of course lead may not be a problem to day as it has since been eliminated from the gasoline. There are also other issues such as microbial contamination from the atmosphere, from dirty storage vessels and inadequately cleaned serving plates.  That apart, how can one justify allowing hawkers to set up their business on the road side while organized business has to face a maze of restrictions under the
licensing regime? Now that street vending has caught the fancy of some people, it has become a fashionable topic for discussion even amongst scientists who want to make the 'street foods' safer, giving it a honorable place forgetting that 'regularizing' such violation in already congested urban areas will attract more vendors and more logistical problems.
Attempts have been made to design more hygienic vending booths to safeguard the health of the consumers but without clean water for preparation, washing and other purposes such efforts are not likely to bring about any dramatic changes in the system. The lack of data regarding incidences of food borne diseases amongst the consumers of street foods, with both short as well as long term consequences, does not mean any thing because many people take in their strides any minor physical discomforts inside the belly caused by such foods without reporting. The latest initiative by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, GOI to give brand equity to such foods by sponsoring them, is only misconceived and in stead alternatives will have to be found to rehabilitate the vendors as a societal service. A possible solution could be earmarking some areas in the urban areas for food courts where all facilities are provided and a safety monitoring system is put
in place. These facilities should include safe running water, power at low tariffs, provision for utensil washing, waste disposal without generating foul smell and hygienic toilets. If such food courts are established, street vending could be totally banned giving the vast majority of the citizens respite from congested streets for which they will be grateful. .  


The energy needs generally, are met through hydroelectric, coal and fossil fuel based thermal and nuclear plants. To a limited extent wind power is also contributing its might to augment energy supply. While coal based power projects are facing increasing hostility from people because of their enormous pollution risks, fossil fuels are sourced externally in countries like India to a large extent with limited domestic production. With automobile sector growing at a frenetic pace, demand for fossil fuels is increasing sharply entailing unbearable outflow of foreign exchange and increased domestic prices for fuels, adversely affecting all walks of the economy. Recent sharp spurt in prices of crude oil in the global market is attributed to increasing demands from China and India, two Asian giants on the threshold of breaking into the exclusive club of developed countries. But such ambitions may still be derailed if the energy crunch is not
handled with vision and fortitude.

Extending the fuel supply is a major agenda on the menu of all countries and ethyl alcohol is the prime candidate for making fuel blends with lesser amount of fossil fuels. The shining example of Brazil in producing alcohol on a massive scale from sugar cane which is grown abundantly for blending with gasoline, serves as a model for others. USA uses 20% of its corn production for converting into ethanol and blending with gasoline and by law the country has set a long term goal to use 36 billion gallons of ethanol for fuel blends by 2022 from 3.5 billion gallons in 2004. The logistics of such huge production may pose large scale conflicts in a world where more than 20% of the population is estimated to be suffering from hunger. The US Arboretum in Washington D.C cites crops like corn, sorghum, soybean, mustard, sugar beet, sugarcane all presently used for human consumption as future fuel sources for their automobile industry!

The reported approval by the Government of India (GOI) of a Bio-fuel Policy raises some concern as to its potential for creating strain on the food supply in future. According to this policy, by October this year it will be mandatory for the petroleum companies to mix 5% bio-fuels with petrol and diesel and increase this to 20% within 9 years. The National Bio-fuel Policy being implemented and to be monitored by the Bio-fuel Coordination Committee headed by Prime Minister himself is supposed to be laying stress on non-edible agricultural crops like Jatropa and Pongamia using community, government and marginal/degraded/ waste lands for cultivating these crops. How far this is feasible remains to be seen though GOI wants to introduce Minimum Support Price concept for buying bio-ethanol by the fuel distribution companies in order to boost the production for meeting the demand. The supporting policy to be put in place also will allow free movement of bio-ethanol through out the country unhindered across all the states while they are exempted from all taxes. How far this will be diverted by the unorganized liquor industry for conversion to spirits is a worrying factor.

What has not caught the attention of GOI is the enormous potential for converting ligno cellulosic materials, the waste streams in the agricultural operations, into alcohol for which ready technology is available. The 300 million gallon bio-ethanol plant being commissioned in Kakinada, AP, India, by Universal Biofuels using latest technology with much lesser energy and water requirement, is a right model for India and must be replicated several fold to meet the demand from the petroleum industry for bio-ethanol in the coming years. Such ethanol blended petrol (gasohol) is more environment friendly emitting less green house gas CO2 than the normal petrol while it can save valuable food crops for human consumption.



It is fashionable in India, especially amongst the admirers of China to compare the development achievements between the two countries and India invariably comes out second best. All credits must go to Chinese for the glittering Olympics they organized, reflecting their enormous organizational strength and ruthless discipline. The omnipotent presence of Chinese made products world wide in almost all countries is a glowing tribute to the economic achievements by that country in a relatively short time. Of course all these were possible to a significant extent because of the highly autocratic ruling regime which can 'impose' any thing it wants in the 'interest' of the country.

In an earlier piece on this blog it was reported how the food control regime in China enforces the food safety laws, even going to the extent of executing the head of the monitoring organization found to have been guilty of wrong doings. Now comes the news about an episode involving contamination of baby food with a toxic chemical, not inadvertently but deliberately for increased profits by the dairy farmers in a part of the country. The perplexing question is why this happens in a country like China with a strong deterrent policy in place. Of course there will be punishment and some heads will roll, whether real culprits or scapegoats as, for China their image is more important than the right to justice for its citizens.

Melamine is a toxic chemical which has no relation to any food but used commercially in coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles, flame retardants etc, none of which is connected with food processing operations. Ingesting melamine (Tripolycyanamide) is known to contribute to formation of kidney stones, cause urinary track ulcers and irritation of eyes and skin. The incidence of the present contamination has caused death of one infant while about 50 others were affected by life threatening kidney stones in north western Gansu province and nearby, which forced its manufacturer Sanlu Group to recall 8200 tons of the product from the market. The prompt action in countries like US and New Zealand in advising their citizens to avoid Chines made infant foods is bound to affect the reputation of the country in international forums in the coming years. Absence of a food supply chain accountability system will make it
difficult to pin point the source of contamination.

The early report put out by China blames the diary producers for this unfortunate tragedy. Adding water to milk is an age old practice which prevails all over the world but the ingenuity to mask this misdeed is what is dangerous. It is known that the milk producers in India generally use thickeners to tamper with the lactometer readings but rarely any unsafe chemicals. Melamine contamination has been attributed to the use of the nitrogen-rich melamine deliberately to boost the nitrogen value and consequently the apparent protein value in the milk. Whether it is due to low procurement price offered by the processor or it is just plain greed, is a matter of conjecture and the world is unlikely to know the truth from a country which does not have a clean record in transparency. In 2004, in a similar incidence 13 infants died due to consumption of tainted milk powder from the same company. As for India, it offers a lesson to its food industry here that eternal vigilance has no substitute if consumer safety is upper most in their mind and food products it offers should have safety standards even higher than what the government stipulates in order to have a cushion against such contingency. In a free and democratic country consumer credibility and loyalty only can ensure success in the market place.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Reels of figures depicting the extent of hunger in this planet do not seem to be causing any loss of sleep to most of the governing class of politicians and bureaucrats as these figures continue to rise rather than dip in spite of years of 'sermons' heard at various forums national as ,well as international. Rich gets richer and the poor becomes poorer each day obviously due to the distortions in the society all over the world. Global food prices are estimated to have doubled in the last 3 years while the buying capacity of the impoverished population is declining, thus shrinking the food bowl of the poorer families to critical levels and accentuating the calorie- protein malnutrition already prevalent widely. The aid levels are also falling and doling out free foods to starving people in selected areas, especially in Africa under many international programs, only buys time and postpones the crisis. USA's budgeted aid dropped dramatically by 75% compared to that in 1980 and one can imagine the real value of this aid in terms of to day's depreciated dollar.

The huge agricultural subsidies to rich farmers of the West, use of valuable foods like corn, edible oils etc for converting to bio fuels, the inherent wastage of foods in raising meat animals all contribute to food scarcity and ever escalating food prices. It is estimated that the net increase of 50 million tons of corn production in USA since 2004 has been channeled into ethanol production and bio fuels while there was a net addition of population of about 200 million in the world during this period. Naturally this would cause strains on food availability and price distortions in the global market. Similarly the well known inefficiency in raising meat animals which require 7 kg of grains to yield 1 kg of meat siphons of a significant portion of foods, otherwise available to human beings. This is in contrast to the cattle raising practices in many developing countries where only food materials not consumed by the man are used sparing valuable food grains for human consumption. Large scale use of Palm oil in Europe as a bio fuel caused spiking of edible oil prices globally and this practice must be discontinued for the sake of humanity. There are enormous non-food resources like lignocellulosic materials available in plenty that can be converted into alcohol through enzymatic process for which technology is readily available.

A larger question to the donors of aid is why they are not providing soccour to the poor nations in the form of high yielding seed materials and relevant technology to increase productivity and self-sustenance. The Green Revolution of Asian fame did not had any impact in Africa where yields are one third of that attained in Asia. Even the traditional yields are going down because of resource crunch forcing the farmers not to use fertilizers. To add insult to injury USA is aggressively promoting GM crops in Africa under the illusion that it will be panacea for all the ills afflicting the region! It has been shown conclusively that conventional breeding technology is best suited for a green revolution as achieved by countries like India and Brazil in sixties and seventies. The reluctance for using the aid money to buy and distribute seeds may pose conflict of interests with the US farmers as perpetuating declining trends in production create a ready
market for US food grains in the region.

One is reminded of the story of a cat which drinks milk surreptitiously closing its eyes, imagining that no one is noticing it. Same way the developed world seems to be under the illusion that by shutting their eyes and minds to the global reality the problems will get dissolved automatically!



Outsourcing has become widespread in many business areas, most predominant being in the realm of IT projects. If India is a leading country for outsourcing it is because of the highly developed skills and relatively low cost of human resources as compared to affluent countries. How long this bubble will last, no one is certain, with East Europeans,  Chinese and South Asian countries like Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, Philippines etc catching up fast. Earlier brain drain was considered damaging to the country's future as bright youngsters with engineering and medical degrees tended to migrate to western countries seeking greener pastures. Outsourcing helps to retain these skilled personnel within India which is a mutually convenient arrangement for outsourcing countries as well as service provider. It is another matter that there is a huge hue and cry in countries sending out jobs under Business Process Outsourcing( BPO) by the
local citizens fearing large scale unemployment.

In the food area contract manufacturing exclusively for export to a particular country is itself an outsourcing as the products are made for the foreign buyer. Large conglomerates like Wal Marts and others outsource many products in their retail basket from many countries in Asia, Africa and South America valued at billions of dollars an year. While this comes under the global trade protocols involving WTO as well as bilateral agreements, what about the possibility of outsourcing within the country as intra trading within the industry or as a consumer service? Ancillaries industries already working in the food sector and contract manufacturing in vogue to a limited extent where big label industry gets their products from small scale sector, can achieve tremendous growth if suitable incentives are provided from the government. Synergy between small processors and large corporates is the only way for the food industry to grow with the latter
providing the marketing muscle so necessary to establish the credibility and credentials of small enterprises amongst the consumers. It does not make any sense to build up production capacities if adequate demand is not generated through resource intensive promotional efforts.

Food outsourcing is similar to business outsourcing but the service provider offers both products as well as the delivery service. It may be a glorified version of the humble vegetable vendor who pushes his push cart house to house every day, selling his wares but very relevant and appropriate to the situation in India. Originally pioneered by Pizza companies, the service provider takes orders from households willing to outsource their foods and delivers the product in prime condition. An improvement in this is that the service provider almost replicates the service of a restaurant, the only difference is that the food is served at the client's place. It is more or less like a mobile restaurant but much more sophisticated in terms of standards and range of foods offered and service provided. In India with the working family system taking deep roots, such a service may become lucrative if right entrepreneurial approach is adopted. Imagine a family of
5 enjoying a 10-course dinner served at home piping hot without lighting the kitchen stove! Home clusters, increasingly being established with hundreds of individual family units in a concentrated place in the ever growing urban conglomerates, open up vast opportunities for food outsourcing business. Design of central kitchens, mode of presentation, delivery logistics, safety and hygiene of the products and aesthetics of service all need attention and the catering training institutes in the country must pull their resources to evolve models appropriate to the country.    


Subsidy is a dirty word for everybody though it is the most sought after favor from the governments world over. The belief that only developing countries indulge in handing out massive subsidies to their people as a political prop is totally misconceived as there exists a pernicious system of direct and indirect subsidies in many developed countries under one pretext or the other. The collapse of the Geneva conference in June this year on free trade was ascribed to the stand taken by countries like China and India to force the well to do countries with rich farmer families to stop subsidizing their agriculture making their produce dirt cheap in the global market.

United States of America (USA) is one of the countries in the world which pampers their agriculturists with huge land holdings through cash subsidy in various forms. It is understandable that governments extent financial support to the farmers through distribution of subsidized agricultural inputs like fertilizer, water, energy etc to ensure that farming operations remain sustainable with sufficient margins to the growers. The minimum support price scheme for government procurement of food grains is a price stabilization mechanism to protect the consumers from run away inflationary pressure due to high open market costs and the Public Distribution System (PDS) is the tool for the government to deliver the staples like rice and wheat to below poverty line segment of the population ensuring freedom from starvation.

It is a travesty of justice that highly affluent farmer families in USA with large land holdings of thousands of acres are encouraged to keep their land fallow without any cultivation for which government doles out huge cash incentives. The pretext for such a program is land conservation. Under such a program each farmer is supposed to lease out a portion of the land to the government to keep them idle under a 10 years contract for which they are paid huge sums from the treasury. Breaking the contract will make the farmers liable to return the funds with a penalty equivalent to 25% of the cash received for leasing land under this program. This scheme also keeps the price of the commodities at high levels in the market and prevent production gluts that can depress the prices. Even if the farmers are able to recover just the cost of operations in their free hold land, government cash subsidy will be the net profit which is substantial. Many
farmers do break the lease agreement when the prices shoot up for some of the crops and willingly refund the government the principal amount with the fine as they ensure their returns are much higher from the market.

A rich country like USA only can afford to keep cultivable land fallow while the whole world is struggling to increase agricultural production by expanding the area under cultivation and increased productivity. Currently 34.7 million acres of private land is with the government under the land lease and subsidy program and one can imagine how much is the production depressed because of this. In a country like India where land was being cultivated for thousands of years, such land reclamation schemes are highly relevant but it is a luxury that the country cannot afford due to recurring food shortages and the consequent strain on the PDS. Rewarding for not cultivating the land and exporting the crops produced under this unethical policy at prices lower than that incurred by the farmers of poor countries can only accentuate their miseries. Is this the compassionate conservatism promoted by USA or a slow genocide being perpetuated for self
aggrandizement of an affluent country? Time only will unfold the truth.