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.      

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