Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Nisin is one of the most effective natural antibacterials chanced upon by man and it was originally isolated in 1928 becoming a popular food preservative extensively used by the food industry. Nisin belongs to the broad group of antibiotics commonly known as Lantibiotics because they contain the unique special amino acid Lanthionine. There are about 30 members in Lantibiotics group, the most famous being Nisin A. Some of the other well known members of this group include mersacidin, actagardin, subtilin and epidermin. Nisin itself has variants designated as Nisin Types A, Z, F, Q derived from the bacteria Lactococci lactis while types U and U2 are obtained from Streptococci species. Generally Lanthionine antibiotics are effective against Gram positive bacterial pathogenes but in combination with the chelation agent, EDTA they can be equally effective against Gram negative bacteria also.

Nisin is a unique short chain poly cyclic peptide containing 34 amino acids and it can boast of some special uncommon amino acids like lanthionine, methyl lanthionine, didehydro alanine and didehydro amino butyric acid. The variants of Nisin differ basically in terms of the number of amino acids contained in the polypeptide varying between 24 and 34 amino acid moieties per molecule. Their excellent solubility in water, proven safety for humans and high effectiveness at low concentrations make them ideal for preservation of many foods. More important they are digested in the GI like any other peptides and proteins leaving no traces that can cause problem. Added to this it has high resistance against acidic environment and commonly encounterd processing temperatures. It is used in a variety of foods that include milk and milk products, meat and derived products, poultry meat, fish products, canned foods, fruit juices, plant proteins, fast food preparations and health care products. Unlike conventional chemical preservatives, Nisin action is independent of pH and there for are excellently suited for extending the life of many traditional food products of India.

Lantionine antibiotics are classified under two broad groups, A and B based on their mode of action against pathogens. Type A antibiotics containing flexible polypeptides cause pores or holes on the cell wall of the contaminating bacteria causing the cell content to leak out leading to their eventual death and Nisin & Epidermin are important members belonging to this type. In contrast Type B products inhibit some of the vital enzymes required for survival and growth of the pathogenic bacteria and prominent ones include Mersacidin and Actagardin. Generally a concentration of 1-25 ppm would be sufficient to get 100% kill of the infection. With an ADI value of 0.13 mg per kg body weight, Nisin is considered safe as the use dosage rarely exceeds 2-3 mg per serving. An international unit (IU) of Nisin is the dose required to inhibit one cell of Streptococcus agalatiae in 1 ml broth and a standard Nisin preparation should have 900 IU per mg. Recent toxicological evidence using nisin preparations containing low Sodium Chloride, usually used for adjusting the potency has further raised the ADI values several fold confirming the innocuous nature of this preservative.

Attempts are being made to increase the potency of Nisin as a broad spectrum antibiotics against major disease vectors through genetic engineering techniques and possibly such efforts may succeed eventually. Bioengineered Nisin, still in an experimental stage, is reported to be effective against difficult to eradicate bacteria such as MRSA, Vancomycin resistant Enterococci VRE, Listeria etc. The antibacterial characteristics of Nisin A, Z, F and Q which are more effective some bacterial species and those of Nisin U and U2 against others are combined through gene transfer to evolve new Nisin variant for use against a wide range of bacteria. It is a question of time before world comes to recognize the potential of Nisin antibiotics for ensuring safety of most of the foods which are facing serious infection problems from many pathogenic bacteria forcing the industry to recall tainted products from the market and incur heavy financial set back.

Food industry world over is going through a difficult period because of increasing cost of processing and higher expectation of the consumer regarding lower prices, better quality and absolute safety. Energy inputs required to get products with impeccable safety credentials are very high while over heated food products tend to lose its quality in terms of taste, texture and flavor. A priority goal for the industry is cutting down on energy cost in day to day operations and Nisin can achieve significant energy saving because of its synergistic effect with temperature calling for lower heating schedule to obtain complete sterilization. Same is true while using chemical preservatives which are under critical scanner regarding their safety and use of Nisin in conjunction with chemical preservatives at lower levels can achieve same results. One of the advantages of Lanthionine antibiotics is that they are never used to fight infectious diseases in man and there fore the much feared antibiotic resistance is a non-issue.

While all look rosy there can be hiccups for using Nisin as a universal preservative because, being a peptide there can be a few who may develop allergy against this preservative. Though there are no major allergic episode so far, presence of milk proteins in Nisin preparation derived from milk substrate can pose problems to consumers vulnerable to lactose allergy. How ever there is technology to produce Nisin using plant derived materials as substrate for fermentation and this problem is unlikely to pose any major challenge to this unique preservative in the near future.


Monday, November 29, 2010


There has been lot of excitement amongst those unfortunate people affected by the silent killer disease Diabetes, by the recent bold declaration by scientists from a university in Vienna that wine drinking is more effective in controlling diabetes than the popular drug Rosiglitazone. Probably more than the patients the wine industry would have rejoiced over this claim because of potential increase in business that can be gained, if such a development is accepted universally. Well researched studies have brought to surface the empirical relationship between red wine consumption and a host of diseases including diabetes though conclusive evidence through human studies is yet to emerge. The beneficial effect of consuming moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages is an issue of discussion even to day and there appears to be some agreement regarding the ability of alcohol in dilating arteries and preventing potential clot formation that can result in myocardial infraction and cerebral stroke. The new claim purported to be based on limited studies may deserve some attention and if confirmed can open up a plethora of possibilities in evolving treating regimes for diabetes radically different from that prevalent at present.

Red grapes form an important base for manufacture of the famous red wines and there are are many varieties used for making different type of wines that flood the market. Though its alcoholic content is relatively low compared to hard liquor preparations, still the wines can contribute to calories because of the alcohol as well as sugar present in them. While many doctors find it useful for their patients to consume limited quantity of wine regularly from the health view, over centuries of history wine has captured a unique place in Christianity and amongst party goers. Socially women do not consider wine as an alcoholic beverage and on many special occasions consume wine while the men opt for hard liquors like whiskey, brandy, rum, gin, vodka etc. Attempts in India to exempt sale of wines from the purview of Excise Duty control are based on the perception that increasing production of grapes do not find adequate market and value addition through wine making can be economically rewarding.

Presence of polyphenols, antioxidants and other phytochemicals like flavonoids in red grapes makes it an exceptionally potent therapeutic material that can deal with health problems caused by oxyradicals generated in human body. The anti aging chemical Resveratrol present in wines from grapes is touted as a wonder substance that will benefit mankind in a big way. But the anti-diabetic activity attributed to red wine is presumed to be due to the action of epicatechin gallate and ellagic acid. Also during wine fermentation, it is common to add grape tannins and Oak tannins to boost the antioxidant activity. Red wines, when consumed regularly, are supposed to be helpful against many health afflictions like heart attack, anemia, blindness, some cancer types, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure conditions. It requires in-depth assessment of hard evidence being offered by some scientific studies for such claims before they can be universally accepted.

In diabetes high and fluctuating sugar levels in the blood need to be prevented to avoid serious consequences like tiredness, heart disease, strokes, blindness, irreversible nerve damage and kidney disease. According to the evidence offered by the Vienna scientists, chemical substances present in red wine some how bind the specific protein, Peroxisome Proliferator Activated Receptor Gamma (PPAR-Gamma) which is present in many tissues in the body primarily involved in development of fat cells, energy storage and in controlling lipid and glucose level in the blood. Such binding results in reduced fat and glucose in the blood and a 100 ml serving of red wine has sufficient chemicals to bind PPAR-Gamma 4 times more effectively than that achieved by Rosiglitazone. That is equivalent to 1.8 to 18 mg of this diabetic drug. What is missing from this study is regarding the identity of the chemical (s) in red grapes responsible for this phenomenon. Also not clear is whether this chemical is present only in wine or in the raw grapes also. The inability of many polyphenolic substances to get across the intestine into the blood and act on PPAR-Gamma complicates the scenario further.

It appears the way wine is consumed will make a difference as fast gulping does not confer some of the benefits claimed because the absorption of the active substance into the blood is 100 times more efficient through the mucus membrane in the mouth when the wine is consumed slowly with more resident time in the mouth. Some of the critics feel that the calorie contribution by the wine far outweighs the benefit of presumed reduction of glucose. One of the mysteries of this claim is the role of alcohol in contributing to the benefits adduced to wine. Grapes have plenty of poly phenolic materials and same is true with a beverage like green tea. Grapes also contain yeast when harvested and further yeast is used for alcoholic fermentation. Reservatrol is known to be a product derived from yeast and therefore raw grapes will not have the benefits attributed to wines. Whether same applies to the chemical (s) that bind PPAR Gamma is some thing that is not clear to day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The report that there are 19 clinical trials approved by the National Institute of Health, Bethesda involving Turmeric and its active constituent, the yellow colored Curcumin must wake up even the most somnabolic observer to the importance and utility of this wonder herb to mankind. There are thousands of scientific studies which have brought out the role of Turmeric or Curcumin in treating a host of diseases though clinical trials with human subjects are far and few. Both ancient India and China had recognized the importance of Turmeric thousands of years ago and if it has been a strong part of Ayurvedic medicinal system there can be no doubt about its potential to become world's top most wonder material that can prevent and treat almost all diseases that confront man to day.

Recent report that Turmeric is effective in treating one of the most dreaded liver disorders viz Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which can lead to liver failure, has put the spot light on this ordinary condiment that finds extensive application in most of the culinary preparations in India. But looking back there have been many similar studies in many countries in Europe, Australia, the US, India and others indicating the effectiveness of Turmeric both as a therapeutic material for treatment as well as a well being product to preempt the on-set of many health disorders. If liver is considered, it can be seriously affected by alcohol abuse or other damaging causes. A Curcumin rich diet's ability to prevent fatty livers or any conditions associated with alcohol abuse is due to blocking of activation of a molecule, Nuclear Factor kappa (NFkB) responsible for inflammation and tissue death. Drinking heavily causes the bacterial endotoxins produced in the GI tract to enter the blood stream and though the Liver detoxifies them to the maximum extent within its capacity, too much of these toxins can make the liver fail eventually.

Liver diseases can be either Steatosis or fatty liver involving build up of fat on liver cells or Hepatitis leading to liver dysfunction and jaundice or Cirrhosis causing build up of nodules on the liver that can be fatal eventually. The finding by Helsinki University Scientists shows that Curcumin rich diet can prevent Cirrhosis at least in animal experiments where as the group at Saint Louis University highlighted the role of Turmeric/Curcumin in counter acting NASH which is not alcohol related. Probably those addicted to alcohol and imbibing high levels of alcohol daily can expect possible protection of their liver by regularly consuming the capsules and tablets available in the market or diets rich in Turmeric. There are many such preparations containing Curcumin as high as 500 mg per dose. Further clarity may emerge in the coming years as the results of clinical studies start coming out in due course.

According to Indian traditional medicine system, Turmeric is endowed with many virtues and it is considered as analgesic, antibacterial, antitumor, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, appetizer, cardiovascular protectant, carminative, digestive aid, diuretic, stimulant and vulnerary. It targets skin, heart, liver and lungs for conferring its beneficial effect. Combined with Cauliflower it is reported to prevent and /or arrest prostate cancer. Other attributes of Turmeric include reducing risk of childhood luekamia, slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease, preventing occurrence of metastasis in different forms of cancer, relief from arthritis, healing of psoriasis and other skin diseases and slowing down multiple sclerosis. No wonder in Medieval Europe it was more commonly known as Indian Saffron though it costs not even 0.5% of the cost of the latter, considered a luxury item unaffordable to most people. Per capita consumption of Turmeric in India is about 1.5 gm a day, highest in the whole world and the low rate of cancer, especially colorectal and bowel related, in India has been attributed to this dietary practice.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Consumers world over prefer white flour and the food processing industry takes advantage of this weakness by providing highly refined flour through use of chemicals. The use of flour bleaching agents became a controversial issue when serious questions were raised in China regarding the safety of these chemicals when consumed over a period of time. Added to this Chinese authorities were appalled to find widespread use of Lime powder along with Benzoyl Peroxide by the flour mill industry there for obtaining snow white flour, in great demand for making many wheat based products. While Benzoyl Peroxide is a permitted bleaching agent permitted in many parts of the world, Lime powder is considered dangerous if present in flour as it can cause severe respiratory problems causing even death.

The burning question is why the flour has to be chemically bleached at all when nature itself has provided a process of whitening by exposure to atmospheric oxygen. But the industry has neither the time nor the patience to keep the flour for months together for natural aging, probably because of financial implications of long time storage. Natural flour has an yellow tint due to the presence of Xanthophyll carotenoids but if refined flour is produced in modern flour mills removing practically all the bran and the germ, the flour may look whiter. Industry still uses bleaching chemicals for further improving the appearance besides making the flour better "functionally" . Is it not unfortunate that modern flour mills produce the so called white flours by sacrificing many of the nutrients in the process, depriving the consumer of these critical life supporting nutrients?

Talking about nutrient loss, the modern day mills in contrast to traditional Atta Chakkis, remove almost all Vitamin E, 50% of unsaturated fats, 50% of Calcium, 70% of Phosphorus, 80% of Iron, 98% of Magnesium, 75% of Manganese, 50% of Potassium, 65% of Copper, 80% of Thiamine, 60% of Ribiflavin, 75% of Niacin, 50% of Pantothenic acid, 50% of Pyridoxine and practically all the dietary fiber making it literally a "dead" material. In a country like the US some of the lost nutrients are added back and offered to the consumer as "enriched" flour! According to many scientific studies such tampering with the natural composition of wheat can have grave implications on the consumer. It has been proved that those consuming calories through such refined products as bleached flour have a tendency to put on unwanted weight while the equivalent amount of calories taken through whole grain flour, nuts, fruits and vegetables do not cause such aberrations. The rapid rate at which glucose is generated in the blood from ingested refined foods causes significant metabolic changes causing over production of insulin by the pancreas leading to more and more food consumption.

Flour bleaching agents such as Benzoyl Peroxide, Calcium Peroxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Chlorine, Chlorine Dioxide, Azo Dicarbamide etc are used for obtaining white flour and these chemicals bleach the surface of flour particles giving an illusion of a uniformly white and bright product. Chlorine, Bromates and Peroxides are not permitted in EU countries because of their suspected role in causing health problems on continuous consumption. According industry sources bleached flour gives higher loaf volume and fine grain structure in bread though it can also leave a bitter after-taste. In China Benzoyl Peroxide is permitted to be used at 0.06% in flour products though there is clamor for banning this bleaching agent because of its uncertain safety.

Interestingly due to continuous consumer pressure and proven advantage of whole wheat flour, food industry in many countries are switching over to technologies that can make good quality bread from such flours, though sandwich breads are still made from bleached and enriched white flour. Indians consume wheat mainly in the form of Atta, the local name for whole wheat flour which is used to make flat bread or roti and it is recognized that modern roller flour mills can make only resultant Atta which is a blend of refined flour and finely ground bran fraction but can at best be a poor substitute for natural Atta. It is a tribute to traditional chakkis or plate mills that a good quality Atta can be made only if the wheat is ground in this simple mill and most large scale millers are using giant chakkis in battery to manufacture large quantities of the popular roti flour in the country.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


The importance of fiber in the diet for maintaining good health has been recognized world over by now. Like water, fiber cannot be strictly classified as a nutrient essential for growth but while water is essential for the very survival, fiber consumption can dramatically influence the quality of life in many ways. The modern "mantra" about consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts is based on the indisputable fact that they are rich sources of fiber. A daily intake of 25 gm for an adult is accepted in many parts of the world as essential for normal health..

The euphoria about dietary fiber has spawned many new businesses and there are thousands of products now available in the market claiming to be rich in dietary fiber that can control cholesterol, CVD, diabetes, hypertension and gastrointestinal afflictions. By far strongest evidence has come for the role of dietary fiber in reducing significantly the serum cholesterol level. The role of fiber in maintaining a healthy gut system and generating some nutrients like essential fatty acids are also well documented. Fiber contained in oat bran, whole wheat, beans, prunes and many plant foods are recognized as most effective in obtaining many of the benefits attributed to it.

Though there is distinct difference between soluble and insoluble fibers, both are required for good health. Recent differentiation between dietary fiber and functional fiber was necessary because of the tendency on the part of the industry to use some natural and others man-made substances in product formulations exhibiting some of the benefits of naturally occurring fiber sources. Two important sources of functional fiber are Polydextrose and Inulin,used widely by the food industry for boosting fiber content in processed foods. Polydextrose is made by vacuum melting of glucose with Sorbitol and citric acid resulting in a 3-dimensional structured molecule which resists action of gut enzymes that hydrolyzes starch and other carbohydrates. It is claimed as a soluble form of dietary fiber though every one does not agree that it is a true dietary fiber.

Polydextrose is water-soluble and is used in many beverages with a few advantages. It has a neutral, fresh taste, high solubility and good stability at a wide range of pH conditions. It is also stable at reasonably high temperature conditions without getting hydrolyzed easily. A solution of Polydextrose is clear and transparent in appearance with medium viscosity. Recently reports from China indicate that Polydextrose is an excellent additive for tea to modify the flavor and mouth feel liked by consumers besides contributing to higher levels of functional fiber. The low caloric value of only 1 kC per gm is an advantage while using in formulations with calorie restriction. The relatively low Glycemic Index, less than 7, makes it ideal for diabetic food formulations. Specialty foods incorporating sugar substitutes like aspartame need bulking agent or a carrier with least calorie content and Polydextrose fits into this role admirably.

With an E number of 1200, Polydextrose is widely used in many products where features like low caloric density, increased fiber level and reduced fat content are desired. Such products include beverages, cakes, candies, dessert mixes, breakfast cereals, frozen desserts, puddings, salad dressings etc. Being a humectant, stabilizer, thickening agent and a proven pre-biotic substance, Polydextrose offers opportunities for creating new foods with more diverse sensory characteristics. A few side effects attributed to this food additive include abdominal cramps, bloating of stomach and excessive generation of gas. Consumption of Polydextrose up to 90 gm a day does not cause laxative effect while other pollyols exerts such effects at levels less than 20 gm. Though it is proved to be safe for human consumption, having shown no deleterious effect so far by any scientific studies and approved for universal use as a food additive since 1981, considering that it is a synthetic product created out of chemical reaction, its use should preferably be restricted to specialty foods targeted at over weight, diabetic and diet conscious consumers.



Thursday, November 18, 2010


Emergence of spices as valuable health protectants has put them on a high pedestal and there are many scientific groups working on some of the promising spices, especially Turmeric, Chilli, Black Pepper and Ginger. The active constituents in them like Curcumin, Capsaicin, Piperine etc are now available in the market in tablet or capsule forms for easy consumption for those not liking their flavor or taste. Latest to be focused by health experts is Chilli and its Capsaicinoids which have been found to be an aid to burn excess calories in the body in those wanting to shed their extra body weights. However it is not the well known "hot"Capsaicin that is responsible but one of its lesser known derivatives present in Chilli, Dihydrocapsiate which brings about the beneficial effect.

Chilli is invariably associated with the hot sensation it gives when consumed and hitherto its value is estimated based on the Capsaicin content, the active principle responsible for the sensory effect. While bell pepper or the commonly known Capsicum has practically no value as a source of pungency as measured by the Scoville Heat Units (SHU), the hottest chilli is reported to be grown in Nagaland in India, the two varieties Naga Morich and Naga Jolakia with SHU values approaching the one million mark. Pure Capsaicin extracted from this spice has an SHU value of 16 million! With the advent of oleoresin technology Capsaicin recovery has become more efficient and the super critical fluid CO2 extraction yields high purity Capsaicin. Because of its hot sensory perception not tolerated by many, Capsaicin has found greater acceptance for external application like ointments and dermal patches for pain relief in humans. A concentration of 0.025% to 0.075% is considered adequate in such preparations to get the desired effect. Pain relief for patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy and acute neuralgia is now being managed successfully with Capsaicin containing dermal patches.

Chilli contains other Capsaicin related chemical substances like Dihydrocapsaicin, Norhydrocapsaicin, Homodihydrocapsaicin, Homocapsaicin and Nonivamide but unlike Capsaicin, these compounds do not have the "heat" property. This is an advantage that can be exploited for formulating products with the health protecting abilities of Capsaicin without causing the discomfort of the burning sensation. Interestingly the concentration of Dihydrocapsaicin can be as high as 2.39 mg/gm of chilli compared to 3.76 mg/gm of Capsaicin. Recent findings that Dihydrocapsaicin can be an antiobesic supplement gains significance and may eventually a popular route for weight shedding without "pain". The key to the finding is that both Capsaicin and Dihydrocapsaicin work the same way in achieving weight reduction through the TRPV-1 route.

The natural question is, if the body does not absorb the Dihydrocapsaicin, how does it boost metabolic activities that results in more burning of calories preferentially from the fat. It is believed that the Capsaicinoids temporarily bind with the receptor protein (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid-1) present in the intestine. This acts as a trigger sending a signal to the brain, which in turn sets in motion a chain of events that effectively boosts the metabolic rate in the body. Probably same process occurs when people eat hot Chilli preparations resulting in sweating. Why Dihydrocapsaicin is preferred to Capsaicin can be explained away by the "heatless" characteristics of the former when consumed in adequate quantities required to trigger the magnitude of effect to be achieved without causing intense fiery distress to the human mouth and gut.

What is interesting is that this compound does not cause any burning sensation or the "heat" that is associated with Chilli because due to its molecular structure it does not fit into the normal oral receptors and thus avoids the irritation in the mouth or the gut. Added to this it is not absorbed in the GI and therefore will not be a load for the liver to metabolize. A small quantity of 3-9 mg intake per day is reported to be adequate to shed significant body weight over a small period of time according to the study carried out with a small number of obese subjects. According to the latest scientific findings a high dose of Dihydrocapsaicin when taken as supplements can burn as much as 160 calories. Though the news can be music to the ears of many weight watchers with a desire to lose weight, further studies are needed over longer periods of time to really quantify the benefit and standardize effective preparations, including optimum dosage that will achieve maximum result. Also necessary caution is advised against taking these findings as a "silver bullet" for weight control because at best, if the findings are confirmed, this can at best play a secondary role to boost the value of exercise and diet control in any regime to control weight.

Relatively high concentration of Dihydrocapsaicin in Chilli can have other benefits also. If this non-heat version of Capsaicinoid have all the properties attributed to Chilli, the benefit to mankind can be mind boggling since most people shun Chilli because of their intolerance to the burning sensation caused by most of the culinary varieties available in the market. Probably a non-heat variety of Chilli like Capsicum or relatively mild Cayenne Pepper can also confer same health benefits such as protection againstt a range of diseases including cancer, CVD, Diabetes etc and future direction of Chilli research must be on such possibilities.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Recent reports implicating drinking of coffee and tea regularly in reducing incidence of brain tumor seem to have attracted world wide attention. Historically consumption of tea has been recognized for its beneficial effect on health while coffee consumption invariably was being frowned upon due to the extreme processing conditions the beans undergo raising uncertainties regarding the risks associated with the artifacts formed during roasting under high temperature conditions. What really makes people opt for coffee or tea as their daily beverage? No one knows! But based on all the studies that have emerged on consumption of these two beverages, there is very little to chooses between them.

In a cohort study enlisting the services of more than 4 lakh subjects, spread over a period of 8.5 years under the aegis of European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutritional project (EPCIN), it is being claimed that both coffee and tea, if consumed daily in quantities more than half cup, about 100 ml, confer some advantages to the consumer. The major conclusion from this survey is that both coffee and tea when consumed as mentioned above reduce the risks associated with Glioma, a type of brain tumor to the extent of 34% in men. Why it is not effective in women is a question that will have to be answered by future studies. Though the above conclusion was not based on real scientific research, the massive nature of the study still offers a glimpse into the possibility of protection by the two beverages against Glioma which can be confirmed with more clinical research. In a separate study it was brought out that coffee drinking can protect from uterine cancer and endometrial cancer in women, the overall risk being reduced by 44%. Similarly a few studies by other research groups have highlighted the usefulness of coffee in preventing heart attacks, reducing the risk by 70%. Other claims of beneficial effects of coffee include protection against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, liver cancer, gallstone formation and Type 2 Diabetes.

As for tea consumption the major emphasis has been on its antioxidant contents (Flavonoids/Polyphenols/
Catechins/chlorogenic acid), which help in protecting the cells against oxidative damage that can lead to development of cancer. Green tea is considered the most desirable from health point of view though the black,white and milk-whitened tea preparations contain antioxidants in lesser quantities. Experimental evidence suggests that some of the antioxidants present in these beverages such as Chlorogenic acid lactone can protect neuronal cell cultures against Hydrogen Peroxide induced cell death. Tea is also reported to be endowed with the power to reduce decline of cognitive abilities during the aging process. Another report claims that drinking of 3 cups of black tea daily lowers by 70% the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

If these stimulant beverages are so good for consumer health why they have not been promoted as health beverages so far is rather intriguing. Probably presence of Caffeine in the brewed products may be the main reason for the reservation in recommending these beverages as health promoting. It is well known that Caffeine has a tendency to raise blood pressure if taken frequently and its consumption is not encouraged amongst pregnant women, nursing mothers and children because of this factor. One issue that is not clear from the results of the cohort study cited above is how much variation one can expect by drinking coffee prepared by different methods like brewing, drip and espresso because there is significant differences vis-à-vis caffeine content in the end products prepared through the above methods. Drip prepared coffee extracts maximum caffeine about 115-175 mg per cup while brewed and espresso versions contain much less caffeine. Same may be true with regard to concentration of antioxidants also in the final products.

If the global consumption of levels of coffee is considered, highest consumption is in Denmark while Italians consume least coffee. As for Tea, UK is the leader whereas consumption by Spanish people is the least. Probably it might be interesting to survey the incidence of various diseases against which Coffee and Tea are supposed to provide protection, in countries like Denmark, Italy, UK and Spain and validate the findings of the
EPCIN study and other similar reports which brought out the beneficial effect of these beverages on human health. It is quite revealing as to how cocoa industry is exploiting the health credentials of cocoa beans by launching a separate "Functional Chocolate Industry" which produces chocolates containing more than 50% cocoa solids to derive the benefit of antioxidants present in cocoa. To day there are health chocolates containing cocoa solids as high as 85%! Coffee and Tea industry also must consider emulating cocoa industry in putting these beverages and products evolved from them on "health pedestal" with distinctly proven benefits.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Can food industry be run without adequately qualified and trained technical personnel? It depends on the scale of operation and volume of business involved. As a matter of necessity handling of foods whether at home or eateries or processing industry, must be left to people with elementary knowledge about the health risks involved at various stages like storing, cleaning, preparation, holding and consumption. A house hold kitchen is generally managed by the female head of the family or a servant employed with some awareness about cleanliness and there is no formal training as they learn the basics through inheritance from their parents besides gleaning from early education in schools. An eatery primarily employs people for their culinary skills though servers and cleaners are chosen keeping in mind the general cleanliness.

In contrast food processing industry has to be more careful and stringent in taking personnel for floor level operations and management of the same with least hiccup. As the centralized processing and packing call for personnel knowledgeable about technological procedures, formal training is often necessary which takes place in Universities and specialized food technology institutions. Though this is an ideal requirement, many micro enterprises and home-scale processors do not have the wherewithal to employ such personnel due to high cost of hiring them. In such cases production is largely managed by the entrepreneurs themselves with able bodied skilled assistants with some past experience. In countries like India most industrial units engaged in food processing, especially in the informal sector do not have properly trained personnel and their survival depends on the ability of the entrepreneurs to use common sense for maintaining quality and safety. Raising a pool of technicians who have the credentials to work in a food processing factory is an urgent necessity and institutions for such training need to be established in large numbers through out the country.

Organized food industry however regularly employs food technology graduates from Universities without much of an "hands-on experience" and these new recruits become well versed with various facets of processing and their management within a few weeks. They are able to perform well because they are equipped with the fundamental knowledge of food and its diverse characteristics. It is true that any decent food industry must have specialists in food technology, quality control including microbiological assessment of raw as well as finished goods and food packaging. While a well equipped food technologist can do all these functions, they are reluctant being engaged in routine analytical jobs, preferring floor level responsibilities. Thus what food industry needs is a mix of food technologists, food engineers and industrial managers for successful running of a production unit.

In India presently there are several Universities offering technology courses specifically for employment by the food industry but most of these teaching shops are ill equipped to turn out appropriate candidates meeting the needs of the industry. They have neither the teachers with adequate knowledge about food industry nor the specialized pilot plant facilities so necessary for a balanced training. In some western countries there are industry-university partnership programs designed to train skilled personnel for employment by the industry. The most recent example is offered by the landmark 5-year partnership agreement concluded recently between University of Queensland and the Australian Food and Grocery Council that will address the problem of shortage of skilled personnel in that country trained in food technology. It is the enlightening and visionary thinking on the part of the industry body that provided the spur for such a constructive and collaborative training project. The idea is to attract talented students into food science and technology careers in the industry which can offer rewarding roles in management, R & D in product formulation and nutrition and production control aspects. They need to be better equipped to meet a range of challenges including sustainability, food labeling laws, food safety needs, packaging complexities, consumer aspirations and government policies.

India is a country where the critical role played by food technologists is rarely appreciated and the organized industry has to take the blame for this sorry situation. Many multi national industry giants routinely visit University campuses, pick up candidates of their choice at high remunerations and provide their industry specific training which makes them unfit for other disciplines of food processing. What is needed to day is the coming together of Universities and the industry bodies like CII, CIFTI, ASSOCHAM etc to massively fund selected Universities to upgrade their training facilities into world class centers. The example of catering industry or the Nurses training system prevalent in the country is worth following because large hotels own some of the catering training centers while large hospitals run nurses training centers in their premises to turn out well developed personnel for their industry. Can we think of food technology training centers owned and operated by major players like Kellogg's, Nestle, Pepsi, Coca Cola or others with organic linkage with some recognized Universities? Or how about a CII supported Food Technology Training Center in universities like Mumbai, Kanpur or Jadavpur which have already established their credentials in food technology during the last few decades? If there is a will there is a way! More than any thing there must be a far-sighted vision on the part of the food industry in the country for achieving well defined goals ahead.



Monday, November 8, 2010


Some recent reports in the media claimed that consuming Watermelon regularly can be the answer to controlling one's blood pressure and probably this may give an impression to those suffering some form of hypertension that by eating this fruit all dietary precautions can be thrown to winds. There are thousands of such reports flashed across popular media for "creating" some sort of sensation to increase their viewership. The general tendency amongst some scientists to approach popular media with such sensational news can cause considerable harm to the cause of science as well as to consumers many of whom believe them blindly. Frequently results of ill-designed animal studies are extrapolated to human system and without peer review, same is passed on to journalist eagerly looking forward for such "explosive" news items. The need for restraint is all the more important when one realizes that most consumers are ignorant about many aspects of food, nutrition and health and unnecessary hope is raised amongst desperate consumers looking for solace to their health related problems.

Taking the case of Watermelon, the claim of controlling blood pressure (BP) is based on the fact that it contains L-Citrulline and in limited trials an extract of this chemical obtained from the fruit was able to reduce BP after 6 weeks, though to what extent, is not clear. The authors qualified their claim by indicating that the results were obtained with just 9 subjects suffering from "border line" BP, with a systolic pressure of 120-139 and a diastolic pressure of 80-89. The quantity administered was 6 gm of L-Citrulline/Arginine extracted from watermelon juice. Imagine the quantity of fruit required to get 6 gm of the amino acid considering that maximum content reported was 28.5 mg per gm dry weight! Similarly in another study some scientists administered Watermelon juice to the extent of almost two liters to their volunteers for eliciting its effect on Arginine levels in the blood.

It is true that Citrulline, an alpha amino acid, considered non-essential because human body can make it given the precursors, is a key intermediate in Urea cycle by which humans excrete Ammonia from the body. Citrulline was also found to relax blood vessels and its malate derivative is sold as a performance enhancing athletic dietary supplement. There is an association between Watermelon and Citrulline as the very name is derived from the Latin name for the fruit, Citrullus. It was isolated in pure form in 1930 and several scientific studies have implicated its role in optimizing blood flow through conversion to L-Arginine and then Nitric Oxide which is involved in Vasodilation. Low levels in the body are manifested in mental and physical fatigue and other problems well documented. On positive side Citrulline is reported to increase energy mobilization and stimulation of immune system.

Of course no one should have any quarrel with consuming Watermelon regularly every day as a part of the diet but claiming that a slice of this fruit can bring down BP is some what far-fetched. Water melon contains mainly water, to the extent of 92% besides nutrients like proteins, Vitamins A, B6 and C, fiber, Potassium and Carotenoids like Lycopene, Phytofluene, Phytoene, beta-Carotene, Lutein and Neurosporene. Though presence of Citrulline has attracted much attention, its concentration varies over a wide range of 3.9 mg to 28.5 mg per gm of dry weight of the pulp and possibly this poses a challenge regarding selection of varieties with high Citrulline content, if BP lowering benefits are to be derived, as claimed. Incidentally the rind of the fruit which is not normally consumed contains more Citrulline than the juice!
As many eminent doctors have said consuming Watermelon can be good for health as it contains many desirable nutrients but expecting marvels to happen through this fruit while leading an undisciplined and careless life style is foolhardy. Watermelon or for that matter any single food cannot be a silver bullet for shooting down inconvenient health disorders like BP, CVD, diabetes etc which are widely prevalent to day. Reasonable dietary control, avoiding over weight, consumption of diverse foods with more stress on whole grains, fruits and vegetables of different types, control of intake of fat, refined sugar and sodium combined with an active physical activity regime only can confer the benefits of good health.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The age-old conflict between the food processing industry and the consumer revolves around the excessive zeal for profit by the corporate manufacturers often compromising on quality, value and safety. Basically a consumer, when in a super market, look for a product with following considerations. First it must be safe to consume. Second it must have quality that reflects purity, originality and sensory pleasure. Third the product must reveal the real ingredients, special process if used and the nutritional dimension. Last but not the least the product should not be an imitation one made from inferior components, being positioned as original. Though responsible food quality and monitoring agencies world over try their best to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of these two stake holders, it is rarely that they cover themselves with glory because of many factors, some beyond their control and others influenced by the environment within which they have to work. The widespread criticism against the FDA of the US for allowing unrestricted use of GM foods in that country is a classical example. Bowing to pressure from industry as well as the political class, many GM products with doubtful safety credentials are flooding the market with no label differentiation from normally produced foods.

Recent call by a minister in Germany exhorting the industry to be more transparent in their labeling of processed foods is some what intriguing because government has the authority to make the industry truthful through enormous executive power vested with them but do not exercise this for the benefit of their citizens. In fact the same minister went so far as to call upon the consumer community to set up an "Internet pillory" to name and shame food processors who do not live up to their claims and promises! If this is not shirking responsibility by the elected representatives for protecting citizens' interests, what else it can be? The provocation for such an outburst came when many industrial players were indulging in secrecy by not properly declaring what their products contain and what processes they are using so that consumer is in the know of what he is eating. The issue got attention when meat processors were found to use enzyme systems like transglutaminase, thrombin and fibrogen and similar preparations to upgrade low quality meat into products that resembled genuine original products.

Transglutaminase belongs to the family of clotting enzymes which are eight in number, all playing definite roles in human body functions. They are actively associated with blood coagulation, skin development and functions of prostate gland, testis and lungs. These enzymes catalyze the formation of co-valent bonds between a free amino group in a protein or peptide containing Lysine and the gamma carboxylic group of another protein containing glutamine. Bonds so formed are relatively strong and resist normal proteolytic enzyme degradation. Such bonded larger protein polymers are insoluble n nature giving it a property of resisting disintegration. They are ideally suited for production of larger meat pieces from pieces. improving texture of sausages and hot dogs, imitation crab products, improved quality products from low quality meats and in a variety of application including making of milk and yogurt creamers, noodles from ground meat and fish balls. The enzyme preparation can be obtained from Bovine and porcine sources besides through fermentation using some strains of bacteria.

Invariably industry justifies use of these so called meat glues because they are used only during processing and resist declaring it in the label obviously maintaining that it is not a part of the formulation of the product. While technically they are correct, the fact still remains that the so called processing aid stays right there in the final product.which certainly requires declaration for the information of the consumer. The EU parliament deserves kudos for its stand on the subject when it recently banned use of Thrombin+Fibrogen based meat glue preparation in meat products, finding insufficient justification for the proposal from the industry. Probably use of such so called glues could e permitted if proper label declarations are made..



Monday, November 1, 2010


Wine is the alcoholic beverage made from grape juice through anaerobic fermentation. With a history dating back to 6000 BC, wine is associated with religious functions such as Catholic Eucharist ceremonies of Christians and Jewish Kuddish of Jews. Originating in the region of Georgia and Iran it traveled to Europe during 4500 BC. Grapes are ideally suited for producing wine because it has the right chemical balance for optimum yeast growth without addition of any external nutrients. Currently France and Italy are the leading producers and exporters of high quality wines. In 2007 Italy produced more than 5 million tons of wine while production in France was 4.7 million tons but France accounted for about 35% of world exports of wine as their products have high global reputation.

With an alcoholic content of about 10.5 %, wine is not strictly considered as an alcoholic drink unlike hard liquors and is actively promoted as a healthy beverage containing significant antioxidants. Besides it has a social aura being associated with partying and social get together. Champagne, another wine variant with some what higher alcoholic content has natural carbonation due to in-bottle fermentation and has a celebrity status. Terms like "old world wines" and "New world wines' have been in use for some time to distinguish between those made in Europe and out side. New world wines are supposed to be produced in countries like Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and United States of America. But with a border-less world emerging, such distinction is hardly relevant with many countries making products, some time better than the old world wines. It is hard to believe that a country like India could produce and export world famous wines like Cabarnet sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Ugni blanc, though with a little help from French expertise.

Japan is hardly the country one would associate with wine production because the population there discovered the quality of wines from Europe and California only during the 1970's economic boom. Ever since that its own home grown wine known as Koshu has been losing ground to imports. It was only in mid-1990s, some feeble attempts were made to improve the quality of Koshu made in the country. The Koshu variety of grapes with thick skin and some bitterness were not suitable to make a good wine. Persistent efforts for more than a decade enabled some of the wineries to produce world class Koshu wines, the first consignments entering Europe recently.

Though Japan lies on almost at the same latitude as California, untimely rains and frequent typhoons make it difficult to grow better quality grapes fit for wine making. Koshu type of grapes is a high yielding, pink colored variety, resistant to mildew and rot which can destroy traditional wine grapes of European pedigree like Chardonnay and Cabarnet. Though the bitterness presented the biggest problem innovative Japanese wine makers have been able to overcome the same by controlled juice extraction, incomplete fermentation to leave significant residual sugar to combat any traces of bitterness, use of fining agents and hyper oxidation and aging via Oak barrel route. To day Koshu wines are offered in many Japanese restaurants in countries like the US at prices varying from $45 to $ 70 per bottle and may eventually challenge the dominance of the so called old world wines in the years ahead.