Thursday, October 29, 2009


Those who are familiar with harvesting of coconuts will know why the professional climbers refuse to go up the tree during rainy season. It is next to impossible to climb a slippery surface, whether for man or animals and this principle has been made use of by scientists to preempt the menace from some of the pests. There are hundreds of pesticides, some approved and others ignored which find their way into the food system as a left over residue, causing long term harm to the consumers. No wonder people are increasingly sensitive to presence of pesticide residues in food realizing their damage potential and those fighting against indiscriminate use of pesticides in food production, handling, storage and distribution have a ready audience amongst these informed consumers.

It is still fresh in the memory of many people regarding the pesticide residue episode involving cola beverages which was orchestrated by some, becoming a partisan issue losing its credibility eventually. The pertinent question asked then was how marginally higher levels of pesticides in soft drinks are more critical than loads of such deadly chemicals already present in daily consuming materials like water, milk and other foods over which none seems to have any concern or control!

Pests are here to stay and controlling them is vital for the survival of humanity. While carrying out cost-benefit analysis studies, immediate and long term advantages need to be balanced against seriousness of the consequences of doing or not doing the same on consumers. Suppose all pesticides are banned overnight, what will be its effect on food production and how many people are going to be starved to death due to shortage of foods? No doubt crops are being raised under the organic food regime without using pesticides but is it sustainable? If every one on earth opts for organic foods can we produce enough to feed them? Unlikely. There are many natural and bio pesticides, without being toxic to humans but even these are not available in sufficient quantities to cover 100% of agricultural production.

Viewed against the above settings, any effort to reduce use of pesticides is welcome as long as it does not cause problems, worse than the present situation. The recent reported development of a chemical that prevent some of the pests like cockroaches, termites and ants accessing to the food source by scientists in UK is based on inhibiting the ability of these pests to climb any surface by making them lubricate their paws which makes the surface slippery and unclimbable. According this technology, cheap, durable, non-toxic and environmentally safe chemical is used to coat the surface areas where these pests frequent. Normally these pests secrete a fluid from the pads below their feet which give them sufficient grip to climb or move on slanted surfaces easily and the new surface coating chemical changes the characteristics of this secretion into an emulsion similar to custard or ketch up which makes the surface slippery.

Of course this cannot be strictly called a pesticide but an aid to repel them when they approach the food. This technology appears to have much more application potential in non food areas and besides its use for crop protection during storage or pest proofing of food containers, ventilators and piping, it may help protecting furniture, homes and wooden structures. For agricultural operations, it is not the right candidate for affording protection to the crops in the field. Food processing industry may benefit significantly if walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors and other fixtures can be treated with this repellent, improving the sanitation of the manufacturing premises significantly.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


High fat content in foods is caused mostly during frying and absorption of oil depends on the characteristics of the products fried. There are many factors which influence oil absorption which include composition of the product, its physical characteristics, water content, temperature of frying, duration of frying etc. In its effort to reduce oil in fried products, the food industry often removes part of the surface oil on the fried product by spinning provided the product can withstand the centrifugal stress without affecting the texture. Low bulk density products with fragile texture are not candidates for conventional deoiling operation.

There are many products served by the restaurants prepared by coating with wheat flour and these products have a tendency to absorb too much oil giving the fried product a 'greasy' feeling. Here is a development that claims significant reduction in oil uptake when coated products are fried. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service has developed a rice-based batter that can absorb up to 50% less cooking oil than traditional batters as rice flour was found to be more resistant than wheat flour to oil absorption.

Many Indian snack foods are based on the frying process and the oil content can be as high as 45-55% in the prepared product. These include poori, vada, bonda, katchori, samosa, etc in eateries while there are hundreds of savory products like chips, extruded snacks, gattias, chivda, many namkeens etc which are in the market available packed or sold loose. If rice per se has the potential to reduce oil up take, why not incorporate it in these products to get the desired results? Probably some in-depth studies are can fully explore this possibility.

Oil uptake is influenced by many factors, especially when it comes to batter frying. Most important is the viscosity of the batter and incorporation of viscosity modifiers has been tried with good results. While technologically it is possible to achieve low oil absorption in fried products, the moot question is whether consumer will accept such low oil products from the sensory perspective. Extrusion cooking technology, one of the best in modern times, can be used to make a variety of products resembling many fried foods and in these products oil content can be as low as 5-10%. But in India extruded foods have not been able to get any firm foot hold, probably because of lesser oil content affecting the texture and taste significantly and this reflects the mindset of the consumers.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


World over value addition "mantra" is chanted monotonously as if it is the only route for salvation. In India, this has become the fashionable thing to say in all seminars, conferences and conventions connected with food processing. Unfortunately no one seems to be clear what they mean by value addition to raw food materials produced in the country side. Even Planning Commission has given value addition a high priority because such activities promote employment besides boosting the GDP of the country. In this juggernaut, the interest of the consumer is largely ignored. With global examples of developed countries where value addition figures are as high as 80%, we do not seem to understand that in spite of such high value addition many of these countries are beset with mortal diseases like CVD, diabetes, blood pressure, cancers of various types and others, most of them attributed to products emanating from the food processing factories there.

This is not to indict the food industry as a whole for their omissions and commissions but to take a balanced view about its role in economic as well as social development in the country. To be fair to the food sector, it must be complimented for saving billions of dollars worth of foods from the ravages of infection, infestation and other damaging vectors. The greatest role food industry plays is in the primary sector involving fresh produce preservation, modern warehousing infrastructure, cold stores and transportation and manufacture of nutritionally balanced processed foods. Where it is going wrong is producing high calorie, high fat, high sodium foods catering to the whimsical sensory desires of the consumers, most of whom have no idea what bad and unbalanced food can do to their health in the long run. It is a pity that the situation has become so alarming, harsh proposals like imposing heavy taxes on such foods and a time may come when the labels may have to carry warning symbols, like on cigarette packets, that "eating foods can be dangerous to health"!

If 100% of the food material produced can be processed into convenient products with long life and high sensory quality, the industrial development can become phenomenal, employment generated will be astronomical and revenue through taxes to the government may be very high. But can man survive on a diet solely based on processed foods? In spite of the modern enrichment technology, a processed food can never be same as a fresh food, though such statement may be heretic for many. Variety is the spice of life and humans crave for variety in every thing they yearn for. Food is no exception. The nutrients in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh milk and fresh animal products are present in harmony with each other and their efficiency in terms of utilization by the body cannot be matched by any recipe concocted by man to mimic nature.

A consumer will be much better off if he can moderate consumption of processed foods (with high value addition) with natural, fresh and whole foods finding place in the regular diet at least to the extent of 50% of the quantity consumed. Probably man may have to go back to the old family values and re-invent ways and means to restore the place of kitchen in providing healthy and economic foods and family bonding through exciting recipes, new taste sensations and happy environment. Food industry should not grudge such an attitudinal change amongst the consumers. It has a crucial role in delivering the food material to him in prime condition and in as natural a condition as possible.


Sunday, October 25, 2009


Over hundred thousand scientists are working world over on different aspects of food and large body of new information is being generated every minute, many of which never reach common people. Even if tit-bits do get published in English news media, the significance and implications of new knowledge are rarely understood. Added to this is the conflicting nature of some of the reports with diametrically opposite views being held by diverse group of scientists on same issue. Many scientific findings sound like fiction but since they have been researched by competent people there must be truth in them.

Can any one believe that consumption of beet root juice can increase stamina during exercise? If you believe in the research findings of the group at University of Exeter, the nitrate present in the juice reduces oxygen up take during physical work out and enables extending the exercise period by at least 16%. To get the beneficial effect one has to consume 500 ml of the juice which can be extracted from a kilogram of raw material. What about the exotic properties of melon fruits? The ability of water melons, cantaloupe and other high potassium containing fruits and vegetables to bring down blood pressure has been documented by scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center and they recommend regular consumption of other sources of potassium like dried apricots, avocados, raisins, figs, kiwi fruits,oranges,dates beans, potatoes tomatoes grapefruit etc, Some of them able to provide as much as 20% of daily needs of this vital mineral in a single serve.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and the ability of liver to metabolize it is very limited, leading to its circulation in the blood with potential to do some harm. Can avoiding alcohol lead to depression? According to a Norwegian study teetotalers are more likely to experience depression compared to those consuming alcoholic drinks with moderation regularly. Must be a good news for the alcoholic beverage industry! Hear about the wonders the magical juice from blueberry fruits can do to obese people. Scientists from Montreal University treated the extracted juice with bacteria isolated from the fruit skin and this bio-transformed juice was found to protect mice from obesity and diabetes. A new 'foodceutical' is borne!

What is the connection between green tea and bone growth? Listening to scientific workers in Hong Kong, it appears that there is convincing evidence establishing such an association. Many scientific studies have established the benefits of drinking green tea because of its property to protect consumers from disease like cancer, heart disease and other disorders but its ability to inhibit osteoclast that breaks down or weakens the bone is a new finding with some far reaching implications. Can coconut oil, rich in saturated fats, fight obesity and diabetes? Experts at Garvan Institute of Medical Research seem to have found that coconut oil does protect against insulin resistance in muscles and consequent accumulation of glucose in the blood. It also facilitates shedding of body fat already in place if consumed regularly in the diet.

One should not get overwhelmed by such an array of research findings and in stead getting too much worried about the diet in the light of newer reports emanating from R & D institutions, layman must focus on eating as many varieties of food as possible which will take care of all body needs for a good quality life. After all there are at least 300 different varieties of edible materials with different size, shape, colors, texture, flavor and nutrient mix available to man from which one can easily choose about 30 to keep one-self healthy!


Saturday, October 24, 2009


Antagonists who rave against processed foods always point out to loss of vital nutrients like vitamins during processing, besides the propensity of the industry to incorporate synthetic chemicals in the name of "processability" and better sensory quality. In contrast realists view processing as an inevitable step to preserve, conserve and extend food supplies for meeting the increasing needs of ever growing global population. The fact is that food raised in the farms is vulnerable to wastage due to many factors, some of which are beyond the control of man. But a substantial portion that, otherwise go waste, can be saved by application of food technologies available to day.

Beginning with the age old preservation techniques like pickling, sugar preserves, drying and other simple processes, there are a range of modern technologies which make use of principles like low water activity, thermal treatment, irradiation, low temperatures, low O2 tension, CO2 infusion, N2 packing, etc and large scale equipment with automated features characterize to day's food industry. During processing there is bound to be destruction of some of the nutrients, change in the nutrition value of the products and generation of some artifacts which may or may not be of health hazards. While developing the processes, care is taken to minimize such changes to the greatest extent possible. Fortification and enrichment techniques were evolved to meet such contingencies and it is another matter that almost all foods processed in western countries contain added nutrients, giving an impression that much of the original nutrients have been lost during processing, which is, of course, not rue.

Recent findings that Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is linked to longevity due to its beneficial effect on Telemeres and it has important role in strengthening dental structures, make it one of the most valuable vitamins. Its role as a natural antioxidant in food processing to protect against oxidation in presence of atmospheric oxygen lends it further credence as an important processing aid. Involvement of ascorbic acid in slowing down Telemeres shortening by 52-62% and thereby preventing aging has been well documented. Telemeres are the end caps of DNA that shorten with many generation and limit the number of replications of DNA.The irrefutable fact that mammals with capacity to make their own ascorbic acid live 8-10 times their age of physical maturity while in humans it is only 3-4 times, further confirms the role of ascorbic acid in conferring longevity. Production and repair of Dentine, the calcareous portion of tooth lying beneath the outer enamel layer, is aided by ascorbic acid and dental surgeons do use ascorbic acid therapy for fast post-surgery healing.

Processes like blanching, pasteurization, sterilization UHT, freezing, dehydration, canning and irradiation cause loss of ascorbic acid to the extent of 10% to 60%. Food industry does take some steps in cutting down such losses but much more needs to be done to prevent the loss of this important vitamin which can be considered the elixir of life. Excluding O2 during processing can cut down loss of ascorbic acid significantly while EDTA, cysteine and riboflavin increase its stability. Increased use of vacuum for processing or use of nitrogen atmosphere can be expected to stabilize ascorbic acid in the food. Future developments will have to keep this in mind in order to ensure that maximum benefit of natural ascorbic acid in native condition is delivered to the consumer. A daily intake of 60 mg, present in about about 200 ml of fresh orange juice can do wonders as ascorbic acid has may other roles also such as protecting against free radicals that damage cell DNA, aiding synthesis of collagen in muscles, boosting immune system, improving gum health and facilitating absorption of iron in the GI tract.


Friday, October 23, 2009


Alcohol consumption can often lead to branding the consumers as 'drunkards' though moderate consumption is often recommended for maintaining good health. It is the addiction to alcohol that makes people binge on alcoholic drinks without any self control. Alcohol affects every organ in the body and most telling impact is on the Central Nervous System causing its depression. It is metabolized by enzymes in the liver but the capacity for metabolism in this organ is very limited leaving the unmetabolized portion in the circulating blood.

No more than one drink a day (13.7 gm of pure alcohol equivalent) for women and two drinks a day for men are considered safe. Heavy drinkers take more than the above amounts and binge drinking involves taking on an average 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men and 4 or more for women within a span of 2 hours. Such regular binging raises the alcohol level in the blood to 0.08% or more and can cause brain malfunction, rapid loss of body heat, increased risk of cancers, stroke and liver cirrhosis, damage to fetus and even coma and death.

300 ml of beer, 220 ml of liquor, 140 ml of wine or 40 ml of 80 degree proof distilled spirit such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey constitute a drink and different countries have guidelines regarding safe drinking levels though the above general pattern more or less is followed with minor variations. Amongst alcoholic drinks wines are considered benign and their alcoholic content of 12-14% is well tolerated even by women. Promotion of wine, especially the red variety, is based on the presumption that it contains significant levels of health friendly antioxidants which help to neutralize free radicals at the cellular level.

The perception about wine may change dramatically if the recent research findings implicating wines in some disorders are confirmed. According to some experts regular consumption of red wine by women can cause liver damage in later life and therefore must be avoided. Similarly white wine has been shown to be corrosive for the teeth, damaging the enamel coatings that protect them from acidic foods. While adverse effect of wine on women is yet to be confirmed, laboratory studies with extracted teeth have shown succinctly that white wine does the damage. Much more clarity is required for any meaningful conclusion and wine consumers may shun this drink for fear of adverse consequences. What impact such a development will have on the fortunes of the grape growers remains to be seen.



Food manufacturers world over are increasingly adopting transparent marketing practices that enable consumers of processed packed foods to know what exactly they are buying. The labeling regulations in place make it mandatory to declare the nutritional profile of the products in side a food pack
, the most important from the health angle being total calories, fat, salt and sugar. Those who have to watch out against putting on weight can use discretion in selecting foods that are low in calories and fat while others guarding against blood pressure and diabetes can avoid products rich in salt and sugar. In general even those who are healthy are better advised to exercise caution in binging on foods high in fat, sugar and salt to safeguard against developing some of the life style diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis, blood pressure and others. Looking back, except for a few black sheep, food industry as a whole have lived up to the expectation of the consumers in bringing the much needed transparency in its activities, though much more can be done to increase the level of confidence by voluntary action.

Same cannot be said about the unorganized sector of food industry such as those existing in many developing countries. Strangely the obligation to be transparent applies only when the food is packed by the organized industry and those foods vended loosely can get way with many wrong doings about which the consumers and the enforcement agencies are aware of without being able to do any thing. Many small retailers make their own food products like snacks, savories, sweets, spice powders and similar items which are offered across the sales counter, packed loosely and consumers do recognize that such foods cannot be kept for long because of high potential to get spoiled. But absence of a system to compel such processors to at least display the nutritional profile of the products provided by them can be helpful to the consumer. Taking potato chips as an example, difference in the oil content between the branded and the loosely vended products can be as high as 50%, the latter being high in oil due to many reasons. How many consumers are aware of this?

Eateries or the restaurants are a class by them selves with their clients focusing more on taste rather than hygiene or cleanliness. With hundreds of products offered for consumption on the spot or as "take away" foods, it is any body's guess as to the calorie or fat or salt or the sugar content in them. There can be enormous variations in composition from one restaurant to another, confusing the customers further. With eating out still confined to smaller populations in urban regions and not as widespread as in western countries, the problem of restaurant foods causing health related damages is not so serious at present but it can assume alarming proportion if the current trend of growth of catering sector in the country is kept in view.

The safety of foods in public eateries including street vending comes under the purview of the civic bodies and public health officials are supposed to be concerned only about hygiene of the environment and wholesomeness of the products served so that incidence of food borne diseases is avoided. Regulation is done through control of licensing such eating joints. Neither the PFA authorities nor the civic bodies are aware of the anti-health potential of prepared foods because of high calories, fat, sugar and salt. This is where government intervention is called for in persuading all eating joints to display along the price list the calorie and fat content of each preparation offered by them. If implemented this is a good start to wards evolving a more transparent relationship between the customers and the caterers. There can be much reluctance and resistance from the catering industry because of apprehension about loss of business but unless this is done there will not be any incentive to bring about innovations in foods to make them more healthy without sacrificing the organoleptic quality.

There can be many problems in implementing a scheme like the one proposed above but over a period of time these can be overcome, given the cooperation between the government and the catering industry. Health of the population in a country cannot be left to the discretion of the catering industry and there must be some guidelines which, if not adopted voluntarily, must be enforced to make people choose wisely when ever they visit public eateries.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Fermentation refers to intervention by microorganisms, mostly beneficial for stabilizing a food product, confer new sensory quality, improved nutrition and food preservation. Pickle is a classical example of fermentation extensively used to preserve vegetables like lime and lemon, cucumber, green mango and a host of other vegetable materials. Conversion of milk to yogurt involving Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) is known to our ancestors and lactic fermentation is used extensively to manufacture a wide variety of dairy based processed products. Ripening of cheese by a variety of microbes achieves distinct flavor liked by many consumers. But beverages based on fermentation are far and few. Of course the whole range of natural liquor products are manufactured by yeast fermentation though these are not, strictly speaking, normal beverages that can be categorized as nutritional food products. Lassi and Chaas derived from milk by Lactic fermentation are beverages consumed in many states across India. Recent introduction of spiced butter milk in tetra pack containers by Amul Cooperative is the only fermented nutritious beverage that has some visibility in the Indian market.

Vegetable juices are now becoming popular because of their health promoting properties due to presence of vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals. Though vegetables contain high levels of water, extraction of juice is a technological challenge and pectic enzyme of microbial origin does play a role in separating juice from the fibrous matrix. However such juice products cannot be compared to the original raw material as substantial portion is lost as pomace during processing. Such juice products either singly or in combination can still be formidable for promoting health if regularly consumed. Since eating large quantity of vegetable is often abhorred especially by kids and youngsters, juice products, made attractive and acceptable can be the best option.

A new approach in making the vegetable more acceptable could be fermenting them using Lactic acid bacteria which can generate mild flavors and acidity and developing beverages based on them and fruit pulps. From sensory angle vegetable juice may not find high degree of acceptance and hence they need to be diluted to derive satisfactory beverages. Favorite fruit pulps like mango, pineapple, guava, apple, apricot, strawberry, orange etc can be blended and sweetened to create a variety of drinks with high health promoting attributes. Generally blending of fermented vegetable juice and natural fruit pulps in the ratio 1:2 can be expected to yield acceptable beverage base for further conversion to RTC drinks. Pioneering work done in one of the Universities in Himachal Pradesh is an eye opener and must be taken up for further development on a priority basis. Fermented carrots, radish and cucumber in combination with mango, apricot and pears were found to be acceptable providing a new avenue for better utilization of many vegetables grown in the country. Probably MFPI should take up the cue and promote this line of research for improving the health of the population, farmers and the industry!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Genetically modified agricultural crops and animals are increasingly being produced though there is stiff resistance amongst the consumers, some health experts and environmentalists. While non-food crops produced through genetic engineering may find acceptance if significantly higher productivity is achievable, when it comes to applying this technology to food crops great deal of circumspection is called for, considering many unanswered questions regarding their safety to humans. Bt Cotton, the most celebrated GM agricultural crop, adopted widely in a few countries including India, still remains an enigma as increased yield has not been uniformly achieved, raising serious concerns about its sustainability under different environments. As for food crops soybean, corn, papaya, tomato, potato, rapeseed, sugar cane, sugar beets and rice have GM versions and USA is the major country that uses GM technology for a variety of crops including corn and soybean. More than 75% of all food products marketed in that country have one or the other GM ingredients!

Genetic engineering involves isolation of a gene having a desirable trait and incorporating it into the genome of the selected plant through a gene gun. Once part of the recipient, the newly inserted gene becomes part of the genome of the recipient and is regulated in the same way as its other genes. Major purpose of GM technology is to increase the resistance of crops to pests though there are other objectives also. Many countries ban entry of foods containing GM ingredients even in trace amounts to protect their diversity. In India Bt cotton was cleared in 2002 and there are conflicting assessments regarding its impact but in less than 7 years India has become the second largest producer of cotton in the world. According to some reports there are at least 11 GM food crops now being studied in India for eventual commercial production.

Of all the crops why brinjal was sought to be subjected to GM technology is still not clear, it being one of the least significant vegetable crops in the country. Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO), a subsidiary of the global seed giant Monsanto of USA, in collaboration with T N Agri varsity and UAS Dharward developed the Bt brinjal and got it cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of GOI based on tests which many consider as inadequate. The reputed European expert in molecular biology, Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini, in his testimony before the Supreme Court categorically questioned the scientific validity of the test protocols used by MAHYCO and stressed the dangers posed by Bt brinjal which contains different alkaloids and 16-17 mg of insecticide. In animal studies diarrhea was commonly noticed besides other biological changes. With hundreds of varieties of brinjal grown in the country, adverse consequences of uncontrolled commercial cultivation the GM variety on Indian soil cannot be under-estimated.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Infosys Technologies Limited, the $ 4 billion Bangalore based IT giant, is a pioneer in skill development as far as IT sector is concerned and their 'campus connect' program, started in the year 2004 is indeed unique. The concept is based on the need to expand the skill base of students being trained by the average teaching institutions, most of them becoming just teaching shops with grossly inadequate infrastructure and knowledge-limited faculty having practically no exposure to industry and corporate culture. In less than 5 years, Infosys was able to knit together over 500 engineering colleges in India as well as in other countries like Malaysia, China and Mexico through a well planned exposure program that helped about 58000 students and 3000 faculty members to upgrade their skills vis-a-vis IT industry and its operations. The modusoperandi consists of training of students through lectures and seminars, industry visits, on-hand training, interacting
with peers and exposure to world class infrastructure and governance. Similarly faculty members were also provided with opportunities to imbibe industry culture so that their perception and knowledge base is significantly improved making them much superior teachers. Such private-public alliance between the private industry and public institutions(PPP) is laudable and has the potential to create tremendous impact at the national level as the graduates coming out of the universities become more versatile with practical outlook.

What Infosys is is doing for IT sector must be emulated in the manufacturing sector also to create a pool of exceptionally bright talent pool which can help the industry to upgrade their technical manpower very significantly. There could be practical constraints to design such a system in the manufacturing sector as is being done in IT industry because of logistical difficulties. Manufacturing involves deployment of complex facilities like specialized equipment and supporting services for which extensive infrastructure is necessary and there are very few such industries in the food sector which can boast of a world class processing facility. But even if a few of them like Britannia, Nestle, ITC, MTR Foods, Coca Cola, Pepsi can pool their resources it should be possible to create a system like the one Infosys was able to do it.

Food technology training is being done at present in some universities and annual turn over from these institutions is about 1000 technical persons per year. Though AICTE has streamlined the course duration and there is some uniformity in the curriculum, the quality of the products coming out of these colleges is appalling and alarming, calling for an overhauling of the present system. As for the faculty, most of them have never seen a even the gate of a food industry, let alone the shop floor! It is no wonder that there is practically no linkage between the academia and the industry and most of the so called trained personnel from these institutions are not in demand. One and the only PPP model that exists in Mysore to day, set up with initiatives by a few enlightened flour millers in the eighties of the last millennium, is just limping along because it was not nurtured properly and adequately during the last few years, the fault lying with the short
sighted policies being pursued.

An industry-academia net work involving at least four large scale industrial units spread over 4 regions in the country can consider creating a regional training program for students from nearby food technology colleges and such a program must be built into the course proper with AICTE concurrence. At least a semester must be devoted for industrial training in the industry before making them eligible for receiving their degrees. Government support through incentives to the industry and financial help for the students to cover their expenses incurred during the training can provide the necessary spark. Industry can be expected to build necessary facilities to accommodate these students for training purpose. Same must be done for the teaching faculty also through a 'sabbatical' program to enrich their teaching skills.

Food Parks being promoted in a big way can be another 'vehicle' for achieving the above purpose. As a policy all food parks cleared by GOI must have a training component, with each unit extending the processing facility for 'hands-on' training for the benefit of food tech students from universities. Such facilities should have residential facilities also and special financial support by GOI for such programs will encourage these Food Parks to offer such programs. Of course much planning has to go into making the proposition a working reality. Offering deemed university status to private industry who can invest adequately to establish training infrastructure inside their facilities is another possibility that deserves some consideration. Unless some thing is done immediately to improve the quality of trained personnel coming out of academic institutions, food industry in India cannot expected to be a formidable player in the economic landscape of the


Friday, October 16, 2009


It is by now well established that oats serve the purpose of reducing cholesterol levels in people having hypercholesterolemia as it contains high concentration of soluble fiber, beta glucans. To day even normal healthy consumers are developing the habit of consuming oats regularly in their daily diet, though its full impact is still uncertain. Like any other cereal, oats contains proteins (15-17%), carbohydrates (59-70%), fat (4-9%), dietary fiber (5-13%) and other nutrients. But for the presence of soluble dietary fiber, beta glucan (2-6%), oats would have remained still a horse feed, as it was during the nineteenth century. It was during eighties of the last millennium, oats attained celebrity status as a healthy supplementary food in daily diets and Quaker company of the US, the oats giant lent its marketing muscle to make it a formidable product.

Though the health claims were being made for many years, oats started commanding attention only relatively in recent years thanks to recognition by the FDA of USA, conditionally allowing certain health claims on labels of packets containing oats or products based on it. 3 gm of soluble fiber like beta glucans in conjunction with a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and fat may reduce risk of heart disease as per FDA guidelines. In order to permit such claims to be printed on labels, each serving must contain a minimum of 0.75 gm of soluble fiber. Therefore a serving size should have about 25 gm of oats in it to make the health claim. Being a temperate zone crop, oats production and regular consumption in the diet are mainly in countries like Russia, Canada, USA, Poland, Finland and others but it became universally accepted only as a health food. There is more or less a consensus that oats can reduce serum cholesterol levels significantly in those with high cholesterol levels during the first few days, say about 30 days but its impact on long term consumption is uncertain, though it does not cause any harm.

Any product boasting of health advantages can be expected to be priced high and oats is no exception.As a horse feed it would not have fetched even a fraction of the price it commands to day and why it should cost almost 3-4 times the price of wheat, can be attributed to market opportunities. Not to be satisfied with such high prices, health food industry is constantly striving to add further "value" to the already high cost and the Bircher Muesli recipe of Maximilian Bercher-Benner of Switzerland evolved in 1900 has come handy and to day there are hundreds of products being marketed under the Muesli banner at costs almost double that of simple rolled oats. Muesli basically refers to a preparation from oats, developed to make it tastier and more nutritious and a typical recipe is based on rolled oats, soaked in water to make it soft and mixed lemon juice, cream or condensed milk and apple topped with hazelnut or almond powder.

To day there are many ingredients that have found their way to Muesli formulations. These include wheat, rye, malts, sugar, whey solids, honey, corn syrup, invert syrup, nuts, pieces of fruits such as banana, mango, grapes, berries, apple, peach and many others, coconut gratings, chocolate, soy lecithin and any thing and every thing which are edible and tasty. No doubt, Muesli is more nutritionally balanced and healthy, compared to just oats but the cost has to come down if its benefit has to percolate down to more consumers who, at present, cannot afford it.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Jack fruit is avoided by many because of its intense aroma which does not get out of the body system for quite some time unlike most other foods. The only other competitors are Garlic and Durian fruit, again liked passionately or hated bitterly by different people for the same reason. Though Jack fruit is not cultivated intentionally, it grows widely in many parts of the country and a significant portion of the production goes waste due to many reasons. Invariably production season coincides with monsoon and further harvesting, ripening, extracting the edible portion without getting the hands sticky, attraction of flies, etc are some of the logistical problems constraining its wide scale use. Often unripe fruits are used as a vegetable to avoid the above problems though availability of market vegetables is a distinct disincentive against frequent consumption even in rural areas.

One of the out lets for gainful utilization of jack fruit is in the production of fried chips, especially in Kerala and southern Karnataka in the Mangalore-Udipi region. Also ripe fruits used to be converted into sun-dried pulp in the form of a mat called fruit bar, popular a few years ago. Osmotic dehydration technology is also available to preserve the deseeded fruit bulbs but high sugar content is not preferred by many making it a non-viable route for utilization. Canned jack fruit bulbs were also being made mainly for export, Sri Lanka being the pioneer in the line.

Deep-fried unripe jack fruit chips, if one can call it so because it is more like a finger than a circular chip unlike that from potato, plantain, tapioca etc, have not been able to establish a market as it is confined mainly to road side vending kiosks for selling in fresh format rather than as an industrial product from the organized sector. The product is not amenable to store for more than a few days, becoming rancid and soft losing its crispness probably because of unsatisfactory quality oil used for frying, non-standardized process deployed and sub-optimal packaging films used. Practically no research efforts have gone into standardizing the process, products and their packaging.

It was left to the enterprising spirit of an obscure entrepreneur from south Karnataka to take up the product for further development and to day a very high quality fried jack fruit chips product is available in some markets though most of the production is reported to be exported. Use of vacuum frying and advanced packaging material with good water and oxygen barrier properties ensure its shelf stability for a few months. Vacuum frying technology is considered the best way to get high quality products, effectively cutting out oxygen-oil reaction at high temperatures which takes place during normal frying under atmospheric pressure conditions. The temperature of frying is also significantly lower under reduced pressure preventing thermal abuse of oil.

Products like this, obscure as they are, must be brought out of their limited geographical locality for wider consumption by the organized sector. True, logistical constraints in pre-processing before frying need to be addressed if organized industry is to take up such lines of manufacture and the responsibility for this lies squarely with the public funded food R & D organizations. It does not need the prime minister of the country to remind food technologists about their responsibility!.


Monday, October 12, 2009


If there is one biological material that has been widely condemned for its negative health impact on humans, it is cholesterol which occurs in different forms in the body. There are 'bad' cholesterol and 'good' cholesterol depending on how much protein is linked to it. HDL, the high density version has less of fatty component while LDL variety is low in proteins. The present theory is that LDL cholesterol is oxidized and becomes part of the plaques that clog the arteries affecting the functioning of the heart. Though there is no complete unanimity on the above theory, it is more or less accepted by the medical community and the multi billion dollar statin industry was borne. What is forgotten is that body has its own system for synthesizing cholesterol from its precursors and foods containing cholesterol may not influence critically the serum cholesterol levels under normal dietary practices. Why is that cholesterol literally evokes fear and apprehensions all around in spite of it being a natural metabolite?

On an average human body synthesizes about 1 gm a day in the liver, GI tract,adrenal glands and reproductive organs and total cholesterol content in the body can be as high as 35 gm in adult. Dietary intake on the other hand is hardly 200-300 mg a day and the homeostatic mechanism in the body regulates cholesterol synthesis, making less if dietary intake is more or vice-versa. It is a universal knowledge that cholesterol plays a versatile role in many biological functions which include building and maintaining cell membranes, regulating membrane fluidity, intracellular transport, cell signaling and nerve conduction. It is the vital precursor to bile salts which solubilizes fats in GI tract and aids intestinal absorption of fat molecules as well as fat soluble vitamins. Besides it is also a precursor to Vitamin D and important steroid hormones. Statin drugs are targeted at interfering with the synthesis of cholesterol by inhibiting the critical enzyme HMG-CoA Reductase thus reducing rate of in vivo synthesis but this enzyme has other functions which will also be affected by regular consumption of this commercial drug.

Recent reports, emanating from Sweden, suggesting that a derivative of cholesterol called Oxysterol is vital for development of brain cells, raises concern that aggressive reduction of cholesterol as is being proposed by some medical professionals can have disastrous consequences on brain development. Dopamine producing neurons during brain development seem to be dependent on activation of a specific receptor in the brain by Oxysterol which helps in producing safer and better dopamine producing cells. The observation that in people afflicted by Parkinson's disease the dopamine producing cells die faster, lends credence to the above findings. While statins are useful in treating genetically predisposed high cholesterol patients or those with metabolic aberrations, the practice of its wide scale use to drastically bring down the level in normally healthy persons in the name of preventing atherosclerosis needs to be reviewed because of its possible impact on brain development and function and increased incidence of Parkinson's disease.


Friday, October 9, 2009


Ever since independence, modernization of Indian food industry was one of the priorities of GOI with major emphasis on rice milling and dal milling, the intention being increasing the yield of edible materials through improved processing. Emphasis later shifted to import substitution with a feverish pitch and R & D organizations were mandated to evolve products and processes indigenously. It was during eighties and nineties that food industry became visible and opening up the economy brought in many global players to India, making indigenous R & D more or less irrelevant with imported technologies and plants available with out any import restrictions.

During the last 3 decades there have been cries of desperation from many stake holders regarding the unimaginary policy flip-flops, unhelpful fiscal initiatives, archaic licensing system and massive neglect of infrastructure. It is rather funny to hear from no less a person than the Prime Minister of India to repeat the same after 62 years of independence.Listen to what he said at a recent conference of state food ministers at Delhi. "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday called for strengthening research and development (R&D) in the country's food processing industry with the Central Food Technology and Research Institute (CFTRI) playing a more proactive role. While basic agricultural research has a very strong and large institutional network in the country, there is little focus on the food processing sector," It is a pity that PM was not even briefed regarding the exact name of the Institute and one wonders whether he had ever any idea of its working. What is intriguing is why he has talked only about CFTRI alone and not others who are supposed to do research on foods. What about his own brand new "baby" NIFTEM, touted as the answer for country's ills vis-à-vis food industry when it was launched a couple of years ago? A CEO has the responsibility not only to exhort his people to raise their productivity but also wield the stick on those who are shirkers.

Who is to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs? GOI, for not focusing on processing as a means of preventing food wastage, industry for not orchestrating their needs forcefully or the food scientists for their purposeless research without trying to understand what is relevant to country's needs?. It is indeed a pathetic commentary on the sad state of affairs of food R & D in the country when country's top executive says that it has not played a "pro-active" role and literally meaning that investments running to more than Rs 300 crore during the last 15 years have gone down the drain! This state of affairs is bound to continue unless those responsible are made to pay for the colossal waste of public money!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Pickles happen to be one of the earliest processed food products made by man and it has a history of more than 4000 years. There have bee many famous admirers of pickles including Aristotle, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and a host of other personalities. It is not clear whether this glamor is based on scientific experience or just personal fancy. India is considered the home to the pickle and it was Christopher Columbus who, after is voyage, brought it to the western world. India is the largest producer of pickles with a volume estimated at 65000 tons valued at Rs 5 billion and Indian pickles based on mango, lime, amla, karonda, gongura, mixed vegetables etc are exported all over the world, mainly to meet the needs of immigrant populations of Indian origin.

Pickles are made either by long fermentation running to several or quick method without fermentation, using acid such as acetic acid or vinegar in sufficient quantities to lower the pH to preclude growth of harmful bacteria. Though pickle making is a traditional technology many modern scientific development in food science have been incorporated to make them safer. Pickle is supposed to be a healthy product and many consumers believe it can promote digestive health, lower cholesterol and prevent diabetes, cancer and SARS. As a technology, pickling process has served mankind admirably well in saving millions of tons of seasonal vegetables which otherwise would have gone waste at a time when modern technologies were not developed. One of the drawbacks with these type of products is the inevitable presence of high concentration of sodium chloride which has to be added during the process to stimulate growth of lactic acid producing bacteria at room temperature.

At low temperature and lower salt concentrations Leuconostoc mesenteroides predominates producing mixed acids, alcohols and aroma while at 30C and higher levels of salt, Lactobacillus plantarum takes over generating mainly lactic acid. Thus pickles by fermentation will contain salt at 15-20% levels making pickle one of the high salt containing foods in the diet of Indians. It is this aspect which may ring the death knell for the industry because of the aggressive anti salt campaigns in many countries affected by life style diseases like blood pressure and kidney disorders. In UK Food Standards Agency is sparing no stones unturned to bring down salt consumption to a level of 6 gm a day. Under such compelling circumstances pickle will become the major casualty unless new technologies are developed that will drastically reduce the salt content without affecting drastically the taste and flavor of the product. Use of Nisin antibiotic is being suggested when pickles are made with under low salt level conditions but the overall sensory quality is reported to be adversely affected.

Current level of consumption of salt is in the range of 9 gm to 12 gm per day by an average person, with Indians topping the list where as nutritionally daily intake need not be more than 2.5 gm for an adult. With such a perception, intense efforts are bound to be mounted to bring down salt content in all products made in the organized sector of food industry. Under such an avalanche, what chance pickle industry has to weather this storm, remains to be seen. One thing is sure that unless the sodium content in pickles is drastically brought down, pickles will join the unenviable company of high sugar, high calorie and high fat foods, which are on their way out sooner or later.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


A two two rupees coin cannot buy much of a food in a country like India where food prices are galloping like the rocket which carried our Chandrayan satellite!. There is a beggars' association in Bihar which passed a resolution some time back that accepting coins by their members is an insult to them implying that alms given to them by the benevolent donors must not be less than Rs 5. But GOI seems to be believing that Rs 2 can bring about a revolution in the education field and has provided a whopping Rs 8000 crore for the so-called school-lunch program or midday school meal project under which more than 105 million school going children are to be covered. If we go by to day's price list, a sum of Rs 2 can buy 70 gm of raw rice, 85 gm of wheat flour, 100 ml of milk or one small egg. Can one make any preparation out of any one of them which can be called a 'meal'?

From the very beginning the so called societal programs like distribution of free foods have been designed to benefit not the children but the intermediaries who "handle" them at different stages and no one knows what percentage of the allocation really reaches the ultimate beneficiaries. Some believe that not more than 15% of the resources reach the beneficiaries! It looks like this is a scheme designed by 'people' for the 'people' but definitely not for 'the common man' of R K Laxman's famous cartoons in Times of India.Of course while criticizing the scheme, one has to keep in mind that food grains that go into school lunch program is subsidized making the two rupee go an extra mile. Still it is not an answer to the pangs of hunger felt by millions of children due to low purchasing capacity of their parents.

The vice-like grip the 'grabbers' have on the program can be gauged by the systematic exclusion of government agencies which were earlier making and supplying balanced and nutritious processed foods to the program and to day almost the entire supply comes from the private players with practically no quality check on the products. Another ploy was to orchestrate that children do not like processed foods and want 'hot' foods to be served to them at the school, opening a window of opportunity for massive diversion of the inputs for making such meals. It is a tragedy that year after year thousands of crore rupees are spent under this disguise with hardly any discernible impact.

The very basis of providing hot foods in the school is flawed in that the main objective of education is side-tracked with the teaching community burdened with the task of managing the food program. With massive shortage of teachers, how a nation can think of undermining the main agenda of teaching in the name of feeding, is intriguing. Why should the system cover 100% of the children is also beyond comprehension. Limiting the number by identifying the needy children would be more appropriate in stead of spreading the resources too thin. GOI must take a bold decision that there should not be any cooking in any of the schools coming under the scheme and top priority must be accorded to develop 'ready to eat' (RTE) products with varieties to avoid monotony and such foods must be easy to handle, store for longer time, distribute without causing damage and convenient to consume. One can only hope that sanity will prevail, putting a stop to the massive looting prevalent currently and really deserving children get the much needed food.