Thursday, September 30, 2010


India is a country where there are hundreds of government institutions vested with different functions and responsibilities. Of course after the economic liberalization initiatives in early nineteen nineties, government role in industry development diminished some what though it still had the critical role of policy orchestration to facilitate the growth of various activities that contribute to the national GDP. The birth of Ministry of Food Processing Industry also owes its existence to the new initiatives at that time and is based on the premise that value addition to agricultural crops is the surest way to generate employment in the country. Now that, in spite of the high voltage proclamations of this ministry from time to time, the food industry does not seem to have emerged as a major economic player in the country's developmental trajectory. The industry body FICCI has now come out with a new proposal to create another Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate flow of credits to food processing sector which is claimed to be starved of funds from nationalized banks due to conservative credit policies pursued by them.

"Identifying food processing as a sunrise sector, industry body Ficci has recommended setting up a bank on the lines of the agriculture cooperative, Nabard, and promoting contract farming to boost growth. "The government should establish a national bank on the lines of Nabard to lend credit to food processing industries whose tremendous potential remains untapped," a Ficci report said. The bank will ensure speedy disbursals of the funds to the sector grappling with the issue of lack of access to credit from banks, Ficci said on the basis of a comprehensive survey. Survey-2010 on bottlenecks in Indian Food Processing Industry was conducted on 250 companies. To overcome the long and fragmented supply chain, contract farming can emerge as a significant opportunity for companies, whereby they can create direct farm linkages to source appropriate quality, quantity and varieties of inputs, the report said. It also recommended opening up multi-brand retail to bring in more global investments in the infrastructure and logistics domain. "Multi-brand retail is an easier way of creating ideal environment for the use of modern logistics infrastructure like transportation, hubs, IT, cold chain," it commented. Ficci, which works closely with the government on policy issues, observed that despite food and food products forming the largest consumption category in India involving 21 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, its growth potential remains untapped. Notwithstanding government undertaking several steps, including rationalisation of food laws, setting up mega food parks and allowing 100 per cent FDI in the food processing & cold chain infrastructure, the sector continues to be at a nascent stage, the report said".

NABARD, an institution created for funding agricultural activities has been functioning for decades but does not seem to have improved the lot of farmers dramatically as reflected by rash of suicides of farmers in different parts of the country. Its much touted Kisan Credit Cards provided to over 71 million farmers and over 28000 farmers Clubs in 555 districts are supposed to be a safety net for the rural families but how far these programs have been able to fulfill the original objectives of NABARD is debatable. If this system had worked properly what was the necessity for GOI to write off billions of rupees of loans given to the farmers during its last budget? Before creating another institution like NABARD for exclusive credit flow to food processing sector, GOI must make a review of the functioning of this agency. NABARD is also supposed to be offering credit to small scale food industries in rural areas, though it does not seem to have made any impact.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Ethyl alcohol is one of the most effective disinfectant, being able to destroy most pathogens at relatively less concentrations. Dependence of medical fraternity on alcohol to achieve reliable sterility in hospital environment is considered crucial in saving precious lives during day to day patient management activities. To be effective the minimum alcohol concentration must be about 70% by volume. One of the limitations of alcohol is that it is not very effective against gram negative bacteria and spores of fungi and molds. Gram positive microorganisms lack the outer membrane and rely solely on peptidoglycan as the cell wall to protect them from the environment and there fore they are susceptible to the action of alcohol which damages the plasma membrane of bacterial cells. The reported practice of using spirits to preserve seasonal fruits is some thing evolved locally in some places as it does not find a place under the technological options available to classical food scientists. But concept wise it makes sense as spirits generally contain about 40% alcohol by volume and combined with the sugar and acidity in fruits the resulting cocktail can be a formidable "hurdle" technology system for fruit preservation.

But there is another, easier way: boozy fruit. There are many incarnations but the basic premise is the same — simply mix fruit and sugar with enough hard spirit to keep the fruit well soused, and let it sit. You can sip the liquid as a cordial and eat the sweet, spiked fruit over ice cream or cake. Apart from freezing, it is about the simplest preserving method there is. And not surprisingly, it's lately become somewhat of a trend among the legion of D.I.Y. canners, locavores and fervent gardeners looking to make the most of seasonal produce. For Amy Pennington, a professional gardener in Seattle and the author of "The Urban Pantry" (Skipstone, 2010), using booze to preserve fruit is just one more "branch in the preservation tree." "There's drying, salting, canning and using alcohol, which kills bacteria, meaning you don't need to futz around with creating an anaerobic environment," she said, adding that preserving with alcohol is the "lowest rung of entry for beginning canning enthusiasts" because it's hard to mess up. She's used the technique to preserve raspberries in vodka, which she plans to churn into sorbet, and greengage plums in brandy, to bake into an upside-down gingerbread cake as soon as they are ready — in, oh, about three months.

How far this practice can be acceptable or economically feasible for industry is not certain, especially in a country like India where spirits are often taboo for many besides being expensive. Since fruits are preserved in chunks format in presence of concentrated sugar solution formed from the water present in the spirit, the end product will have alcoholic flavor and some mild intoxicating "effect". Probably this could limit the end use of the product in only a few products. Also to be reckoned with is the excise regulations which can be a considerable constraint in using alcoholic products by the food industry.


Sunday, September 26, 2010


The incredible irony that pervades the bureaucratic world has been brought out recently by no less a person than one of the glorified international servants working with Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). That the "lethal" combination of politicians and bureaucrats can stifle any initiative in favor of the helpless denizens through lobbying, prevarication, delays and lack of follow up action is brought out by the latest revelation from one of the responsible officials of FAO.

Maybe now, that the accusations come from the director of the FAO Animal Production and Health Division FAO, Dr Samuel C. Jutzi, more people will start to open their eyes to this problem. The official explained recently in London, UK, that the agricultural industry and the food production industry are the largest consumers of fresh water, some of the world's most important polluters, the largest threat to biodiversity, and the main reason why obesity exists today as an epidemic. Regardless of these negative effects they have on the world, corporations in these fields are allowed to get away with what they do simply because they have enough money to stifle the legislative and decision-making processes. The main mechanism of action that lobby groups use is the delay. Some norms have been jammed in various institution for years, while companies that would have been affected by them continue to thrive. They also prefer to "water down" proposed decisions, which means that they eliminate the points that would do most good to the world, and most harm to their quarterly profits. These groups are also successful because FAO's decision-making process is based on consensus. If two or three governments are persuaded not to vote for a measure, the decision is abandoned. "I have now been 20 years in a multilateral organization which tries to develop guidance and codes for good agricultural practice, but the real, true issues are not being addressed by the political process because of the influence of lobbyists, of the true powerful entities," Jutzi said.

The tortuous progress of the Food Safety Bill through the legislative arms in the US, in spite of the latest recall of half a billion Salmonella tainted eggs from the market, brings out more graphically the strangle-hold of vested interests on the policy makers in that country. The widespread use of genetically modified foods in the US is also a standing testimony to the economic clout of the powerful industry lobby which further illustrates the helplessness of common man in deciding his own destiny. While it is understandable that a country like the US can decide for itself what it wants, it is unfortunate that the influence of money is spreading on the international arena also affecting the fate of billions of people due to wrong and inappropriate decisions.

Friday, September 24, 2010


While relentlessly pursuing efforts to find suitable alternative options in meeting the contingency arising out of the impending drying of world's oil wells that supply the current energy needs, bio-fuels lend themselves as a viable replacement source. How ever diversion of food crops like corn and sugar cane for production of alcohol is putting pressure on food availability especially in third world countries where majority of the poor live and eke out an existence. Alcohol which is admixed with gasoline at varying proportions has been found to be compatible with modern designs of automobiles and a country like Brazil has even automobiles running on 100% ethanol. In the US mandatory use of alcohol, programmed over several years, depends heavily on corn grains which are under a subsidy regime making the corn derived alcohol cheaper. Corn is also a major source of HFCS, the fructose containing sweeteners which find applications in thousands of processed foods. Is it not a pity that Corn, the much valued food providing energy and nutrition for millions of Africans is diverted for non-food use depriving the human beings of the daily food? If future EU plans for producing ethanol from agricultural wastes in the farms materialize, food crops may not be needed to produce Bio-fuels any more.

Biofuels made from plant waste and municipal trash rather than food crops could replace more than half of gasoline used in the European Union by 2020, industry analyst Bloomberg New Energy Finance said today. The 27-nation bloc could make 90 billion liters (24 billion gallons) of so-called next-generation ethanol in 2020, about 65 percent of predicted fossil gasoline use, the London-based group said in a study. At least 100 refineries a year could be built in the bloc from 2013, it said. The EU currently has no commercial factories that refine biofuels from plant waste. European agriculture "can benefit from a new bioenergy industry as farmers will have an extra revenue source, increasing the euros-per-hectare ratio for every piece of land," said Roberto Rodriguez Labastida, a co-author of the study. While the EU industry may be worth an annual 31 billion euros ($40 billion) by 2020, the bloc has no target for making next-generation biofuels, and a business-as-usual approach would see revenue of 522 million euros, 1.7 percent of the potential, Rodriguez said. European companies making ethanol include Spain's Abengoa SA and CropEnergies AG of Germany.

Once energy generation becomes a standard feature of agricultural farm activities, there could be substantial net reduction in energy consumption for agricultural operations, considered substantial compared to food processing activities in the organized sector of industry. It is also touted that farmers will have additional sources of income by trading the farm generated energy though what consequences such a change will have on traditional composting and soil repletion practices is a Grey area requiring the attention of the planners. An integrated approach can only bring about harmonious changes in the farm sector that will serve the interests of both the basic farming and the energy sector.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Bread is consumed widely in the western world in many forms, the most common being toasts which form the main stay of a break fast. The ubiquitous sandwich is also based on bread slices though they are not generally toasted. Of course there are some types of toasted sandwich with different filling and sandwich toaster is a standard fixture in most kitchens. Early habits developed amongst children are carried forward through out life unless there are cataclysmic events that make bread unavailable for some reasons. According to a new finding the affinity for toast is developed at early childhood within the family environment because the sense of smell is involuntarily registered in the sub-conscious mind that enables the child to keep the memory for a long time.

"By imaging people's brains while they're exposed to certain smells, in this case toast cooking, you can learn about what part of the brain is used to register, store and process the sensation," he said. "While visual and sound sensations are processed by the conscious mind, and are continually being re-evaluated, smells are transmitted directly to the subconscious, where long-term memory is stored." Prof Jacobs' research suggested the preference for toast and its smell was much stronger in people who had it for breakfast as a child. In an almost Pavlovian reaction, the nature of the smell seems to be largely irrelevant, with the associations it holds to events from our past playing a much more significant role. He said: "We can form these associations with smells at any age. All that's required is a consistent smell, combined with an event powerful enough to pin a given emotion to that particular set of chemicals. "Children's minds are much more plastic, in that the neural pathways are constantly developing. Therefore it's not really surprising to find that people exposed to toast as children have a much stronger affinity for the smell in later life.

One wonders whether such a proposition holds good for all foods to which a child is exposed during its early stages of development. How about the staples? It is known that those consuming rice never like wheat or other grains s a regular food while wheat eaters do not appreciate rice except for occasional consumption. Similarly those used to coarse grains like Ragi, Bajra etc invariably prefer these grains over others because they were brought up on these foods. How about the extreme smell sensations emanated from Garlic,Durian, Jackfruit etc which are either liked very much or spurned as rotten smell by those liking them? Probably same explanation may hold good for the reaction to these extreme smells. The finding is indeed beneficial to young mothers who have the unenviable task of bringing up healthy kids and avoiding foods which are not healthy but good in smelling and perseverance at this stage will pay off in the long run.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The startling news about girls reaching early puberty in China captured the attention of people and the subject became a hot topic for discussion amongst medical and nutritional experts. Whether one likes it or not during the last 300 years the age of attaining puberty has been coming down and to day a significant segment of the female population cross this threshold at an age below 10 years. Though nutrition plays an important role in development of female hormones necessary for the transformation, there are other factors which also contribute to the early maturity syndrome being prevalent in many developed countries. The modern day foods from the processed food industry have been blamed for contributing to this phenomenon because of fat and calorie rich foods they produce and the chemicals used in raising many other foods. While obesity causes disturbed hormonal changes that can cause early puberty, use of synthetic hormones in dairy and meat animals also influence natural hormonal activity bringing about undesirable changes in body metabolism.

"While the childhood obesity problem is linked to the over consumption of processed food, drive-through, dinner in a bucket and the sheer volume of sugar and other junk our kids are eating, we must also look at the role growth hormones play in the size of our kids and the age they reach puberty. Wake up, people. If hormones can make an animal fat, what do you think will happen to us? We have always had access to junk food, but never in human history have we been the subjects of such an intense ingestion of chemicals and hormones. Dr. Andrew Weil states that more than two-thirds of the cattle raised in the U.S. are given hormones, usually testosterone and estrogen to boost growth. According to Cornell, there are actually six hormones commonly used in meat and dairy production: estradiol and progesterone (natural female sex hormones); testosterone (natural male sex hormone); zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengesterol (synthetic growth promoters that make animals grow faster). Not used on poultry or pigs, (but only because they don't promote meaningful growth in these animals), the FDA also allows the use of rbGH, another growth hormone, to promote more milk production in dairy cows. And here's where it gets really creepy. There is no monitoring of the female and male hormones, according to Cornell, because they are naturally produced by the animals so in theory, they can't really tell what hormones were produced and which were administered, so why have limits? But they set tolerance levels for the synthetic hormones. I feel safer; how about you?"

Another dimension to the problem is the suspected consequences of early puberty resulting in increased incidences of breast cancer amongst early matured females when they grow up. The logic of the industry is that it is using hormones which are already in the human body, forgetting that excess can cause unpredictable consequences. No doubt human body has the necessary mechanism to regulate production and metabolism of hormones but to what limit this can be pushed is not well known. Obesity relation is also disturbing because almost one third of the population in a country like the US are either obese or grossly overweight. While food intake can be controlled if there is will and determination, estrogen like substances ingested through food packed in plastic containers and bags pose another imponderable cause for anxiety.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Food industry, in its desire to provide the consumer with a guideline regarding the quality of packed foods at the point of purchase, routinely declare on the label instructions conveying the shelf life of the contents inside the pack. However these guidelines are often not based on actual shelf life studies under field conditions and there fore cannot be taken as gospel truth. Invariably shelf life declarations are on relatively safer side with the actual life much more than what is declared. This has been an issue exercising the minds of policy makers world over as many products, past the expiry date, are found to be still safe for consumption. However legally industry cannot advice the customers to consume date expired products due to apprehension regarding any unlikely episode that can happen involving such foods, with serious economic consequences. Here comes a technology that is supposed to precisely say whether a food is still good for consumption without opening the packet.

"TimeTemp said its innovative shelf life indicator is able to more precisely measure the freshness of food items as they pass through the supply chain from factory to consumer and could lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste produce. The firm said processors have little control over the temperatures their goods are exposed to throughout the value chain. Consequently, they often mark their products with a shorter shelf life as a precautionary measure which can mean a lot of edible food is thrown away. Norwegian food retailers discard over 50,000 tonnes of food annually, said TimeTemp. Driven by the need to address these issues, the company has developed the innovative device, which is a small self-adhesive label attached to food products. It contains a range of non-toxic chemicals which react and change colour according to time and temperature. The chemical reaction is activated at the packaging line of the food producer and follows each item from production to consumer. The reaction shows the time left before expiration of that product in accordance with the actual degradation of the food item – which is illustrated and in an easy-to-read graphical format, said TimeTemp. The firm said the intelligent packaging technology is applicable for all products where quality and lifespan depend on time and temperature variables during storage, as well as items where quality depends on maturity and ageing. Items such as meat, poultry, dairy and even bakery products would potentially benefit from using the technology".

The easy to comprehend color changes will be a great boon to consumers who are torn between an economic need to consume such foods and fear of the consequences if some thing untoward happens. Since almost all food spoilage cases are time-temperature related, the new technology has unlimited scope for application. One unanticipated off-shoot of wide application of this technology will be the uncertainties faced by the retailers who may carry products with varying residual life and consumers becoming more choosy in picking up those with maximum unexpired life. Probably the color coded adhesive tape could be inserted inside the pack while the current "best before" date continues to guide the buyers. The color coded strip will be useful once the product is taken home and being consulted before deciding on consuming date expired products.


Sunday, September 19, 2010


Licensing is supposed to be a dreaded word because of the complex procedures involved in applying for such a license and getting the same. One can understand these problems in a country like India where procedural delays are normal and patience of the people seems to be unlimited. But entrepreneurs in the US complaining about licensing problems is some what odd considering the modern administrative infrastructure this country has established and the relentless efforts to reduce paper "load" on citizens dealing with the government. The Food Truck phenomenon which is becoming wide spread is liked by American consumers and there are hundreds of such trucks operating in the metropolitan areas of the country. Probably one has to understand the dilemma of the safety agencies in granting licenses indiscriminately because these street food vendors can cause harm to consumers if adequate minimum facilities are not built into the vending

"Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process and they make particular sense for Boston. Boston is a walking city — built on a human scale — and it fits perfectly with eateries that sell on a street corner. Boston is a magnet for immigrants, who often have the skill to create a great meal but not the capital to set up a full restaurant. Boston has a dearth of affordable real estate, and food trucks are a small-saving way of delivering new food options. So what's stopping food trucks from proliferating in Boston? The most common complaints are "complex licensing and zoning regulations'' — would-be vendors say licensing can take many months. Food trucks do need to be licensed, at least to ensure safe food. Moreover, trucks should be charged by the government when they occupy public space. (Private landlords can presumably make their own arrangements.) Controlling public space and protecting public health are legitimate reasons for regulation, but the loudest voices against food trucks often come from restaurateurs complaining about competition. Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is a terrible reason to restrict food trucks. As in many other areas, a one-stop permitting process that aims at providing speedy approval seems like a step forward. While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston's streets and Boston's palates — they just need to be free to do so.Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process and they make particular sense for Boston. Boston is a walking city — built on a human scale — and it fits perfectly with eateries that sell on a street corner. Boston is a magnet for immigrants, who often have the skill to create a great meal but not the capital to set up a full restaurant. Boston has a dearth of affordable real estate, and food trucks are a small-saving way of delivering new food options. So what's stopping food trucks from proliferating in Boston? The most common complaints are "complex licensing and zoning regulations'' — would-be vendors say licensing can take many months. Food trucks do need to be licensed, at least to ensure safe food. Moreover, trucks should be charged by the government when they occupy public space. (Private landlords can presumably make their own arrangements.) Controlling public space and protecting public health are legitimate reasons for regulation, but the loudest voices against food trucks often come from restaurateurs complaining about competition. Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is a terrible reason to restrict food trucks. As in many other areas, a one-stop permitting process that aims at providing speedy approval seems like a step forward. While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston's streets and Boston's palates — they just need to be free to do so".

Does it give some solace to Indian entrepreneurs who are driven from pillar to post with wads of notes to grease the palms of the babus who man the post dispensing licenses? Of course no corruption or bribing may be involved in the US system but there is an element of thoroughness in vetting the applications which could cause delays. Besides the Food Truck system of food vending is relatively a new concept and it is going to take time to evolve an efficient fool proof safety protocols for these vending contraptions. Also to be kept in mind is the repercussions of indiscriminate licensing on established eateries and the possibility of traffic obstructions caused by the parking of the trucks in some roads that may affect the civic standards adversely.


Saturday, September 18, 2010


The "Locavores" movement started in the US for encouraging people to shun foods brought from far away places and in stead consume those that are grown locally seems to be based on unsubstantiated premise that the former is responsible for large consumption of fossil fuel energy. A recent study debunks this theory and in stead blames the house holds as the biggest culprit in this energy saga. Though one cannot accept the stand that people should consume more of energy efficient commercially produced industrial foods for cutting down energy waste, there is a point in that more needs to be done for cutting down on house hold energy consumption through more optimized kitchen operations and improved designs of kitchen appliances. While energy experts focus only on the narrow aspect of energy consumption, there are other issues like the impact of industrial foods on consumer health.

In his recent The New York Times op-ed, "Math Lessons for Locavores" -- debated at length in our"Food Fight" feature -- Stephen Budiansky shows that transportation and "modern" (i.e., highly mechanized and chemical-intensive) farming make up relatively small parts of industrial food's energy footprint. Consumers in their kitchens, in Budiansky's view, are the real energy guzzlers -- so locavores should stop worrying and learn to love industrial food.Those points are addressed broadly by a recent article in Amber Waves, the publication of the USDA's Economic Research service. On page 13 of this lucidly written report, we find that in 2002, U.S. households used nearly 4 quadrillion BTUs of energy in the kitchen, more than any other sector of the food system. By contrast, transportation -- think of the vast fleet of trucks that ferries the food we eat cross-country, to supermarket chains and eateries -- consumed about 0.6 quadrillion BTUs. And agriculture, with its gas-dependent combines and other machines and fossil fuel-sucking fertilizers and pesticides, used just 2.1 quadrillion BTUs.

The energy consumption by the agriculture sector in most developed countries is a matter of concern but very little can be done to reduce the consumption without affecting land productivity. Possibly some alleviation measures can be thought of which includes extraction of energy from farm wastes through anaerobic digestion or bio-fuel production so that the net energy utilization comes down significantly. Both these technologies are at a ripe stage for utilization in large farms provided necessary resources are made available to install large scale facilities in the coming years. .


Friday, September 17, 2010


Acrylamide scare is moving scientists to develop necessary means to tackle this issue at the processing level itself with minimum added cost to the processor. Though the danger posed by this chemical is not yet confirmed, there appears to be concerted move to "exploit" this "scare" and make a quick buck for the industry and fast fame for some scientists! Earlier there was this enzyme manufacturer in Europe offering appropriate enzyme system to preempt the Maillard reaction responsible for generating Acrylamide during high temperature processing. Now comes the report regarding the use of bacteria in making the precursors of Acrylamide innocuous and thus preempt the undesirable reaction.

"He and his research team found a method that limits the formation of acrylamide during the production of potato products and coffee. It was the patent for this method that provided the springboard for the company Zeracryl". "Our method is based on lactic acid fermentation," explains Dr Blom. "Acrylamide is formed as a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and simple sugars such as glucose and fructose. Put simply, the lactic acid bacteria remove these compounds and inhibit the formation of acrylamide." The team's ongoing experiments show that 10 to 15 minutes' immersion in lactic acid bacteria culture before cooking reduces acrylamide formation in the final product by roughly 90 per cent.

What effect LAB will have on the eating quality of fries made by the modified process has not been spelt out clearly. How far the modification will affect the continuous process of making fries is also an issue to be addressed by the industry while considering incorporation of the 15 min pretreatment step in the main process. Since maximum bacterial activity is obtained under optimum growing conditions and beyond the lag phase of growth, the 15 min process must have been based on an in vitro system where high density cell suspensions are used for eliciting the relevant enzyme activity to modify the constituents in the raw material responsible for Acrylamide reaction.


Thursday, September 16, 2010


Is it the influence of the emigrating Indians or the increasing intrusion of Mexican foods, that is responsible for the wide spread use of spices in a country like the United States? Indian presence is so ubiquitous now that there are Governors in some states and many elected representatives in some of the local, state and federal legislatures hailing from India and naturally the cultural practices of this country are bound to be disseminated and imbibed by the Americans, though the process may be very slow. Added to this there are thousands of Indian restaurants serving Indian foods to a wide clientèle, further popularizing Indian foods. The "hot" Mexican foods promoted largely by Taco Bell and Chipotle chain restaurants, have carved out a niche for them selves and no wonder spice consumption is soaring in the US. High quality spice powders and blends exported by companies boasting of ISO, HACCP and SAP systems naturally boosted the confidence about the safety of spices amongst American consumers. Though McCormick may not admit its Indian connections, it is a fact that a major part of its raw materials is procured from India. Recent collaboration with Eastern Condiments in India is obviously intended to meet the increasing demand for spices in that country.

McCormick estimates in the '50s the average American spice drawer had 10 spices. Today the number's grown to 40. "People consume almost a billion pounds of spices a year," McCormick's Lori Robinson said. Twenty-five years ago it was half that. Spice experts say it's the melting pot that's producing spicier meals. As the country becomes more diverse, tastes change. "The cayennes and habanero sauces and spices, the things that really burn their mouth," said Alfonso Rivera, manager of El Centro Restaurant in New York City. Meals that used to be seasoned with salt and pepper now include everything from allspice to za'atar. During a five-year period, the amount of paprika imported into the United States rose from roughly 27 million pounds per year to almost 55 million pounds. Ginger has gone from 62 million pounds to almost 94 million pounds"..

Advent of oleoresins manufactured from a variety of spices has opened up new applications in processed meat products and Super Critical Fluid Extraction technology ensures that almost 100% of the culinary properties of raw spices is captured without any modification. Unlike spice powders, oleoresin emulsions enable the industry to have precision in recipe development and manufacturing with sustainable uniformity. Another reason for the spice portfolio becoming a main stream kitchen fixture is because of their health promoting value with spices and condiments like Turmeric, Ginger, Cinnamon etc becoming proven health protective ingredients. It may be prudent for a country like India to be eternally vigilant to protect its market through strict safety monitoring and stringent export regime.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Scientific research in food area is straining its credulity by publishing patently unsustainable and some time bordering on non-sense, "findings" putting the consumer in great confusion and trauma. The latest to come out of the stable of a renowned college in the UK is the strange recommendation to consume a drug while indulging in a fatty meal to prevent a "heart attack"! One can understand a diabetic patient consuming a hypoglycemic tablet before eating a regular meal because it is necessary prevent glucose build up in the blood and avoid consequences there of. Similarly people with hyper tension disorder have to take medication before meals to control blood pressure within the limits. But a perfectly healthy person consuming a drug to prevent potential health hazards is some thing difficult to comprehend and such research findings even if true should not be encouraged. One should not be blamed if aspersions are cast on the true intention of this research-helping the consumer or the giant drug companies which stand to benefit if "serving" Statin in fast food joints become an accepted practice.

"Would you like a statin with your fries? Fast-food joints should distribute for free the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, taken by 24 million Americans to prevent heart disease andstrokes, to offset the effects of a fatty meal, a new study suggests. The researchers, at Imperial College London, concluded that the cardiovascular toll of a daily meal consisting of a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small milkshake would be neutralized by a statin pill served as a side order. The findings of the clinical trial, which involved 43,000 participants, will be published Sunday in the American Journal of Cardiology. "In terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast-food meal increases it," lead researcher Darrel Francis told reporters. And providing the pills would cost less than 7 cents per customer, about the same as a packet of ketchup. A fast-food statin may not be enough, however. The British Heart Foundation, stressing that the drugs are not a "magic bullet," recommends exercise and a healthy diet as the best bet for staving off heart problems, Reuters reports".

It is prudent for the experts to advice people that drug consumption is not a panacea for all health problems created by bad life styles and reminding them about the role of balanced diet, moderation in food consumption and regular physical activities that would burn the calories. Statins are already under a cloud with some critics raising serious questions regarding its role in protection of heart and with billions of dollars of stake in Statin business, the pharmaceutical industry can be expected to exploit the lack of unanimity amongst the scientists on the effectiveness in preventing heart attacks.


Recent news that some of the states in India are worse than many poor African countries in terms of providing adequate food and nutrition to the child population must be galling to patriotic Indians who want to take pride in the strides made by the country in many fields of economic activities. It looks as if the race to reach the milestone of an economic super power is obscuring the agenda for social upliftment with poverty still remaining number one problem of the country. Here is a sorry indictment of the present situation which if continued can spell disaster of a magnitude the country can ill afford.

India's ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys. India vanquished food shortages during the 1960s with the Green Revolution, which introduced high-yield grains and fertilizers and expanded irrigation, and the country has had one of the world's fastest-growing economies during the past decade. But its poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with roughly 42 percent of all Indian children under the age of 5 being underweight. The food system has existed for more than half a century and has become riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs. Ms. Gandhi's proposal, still far from becoming law, has been scaled back, for now, so that universal eligibility would initially be introduced only in the country's 200 poorest districts, including here in Jhabua, at the western edge of the state of Madhya Pradesh. With some of the highest levels of poverty and child malnutrition in the world, Madhya Pradesh underscores the need for change in the food system. Earlier this year, the official overseeing the state's child development programs was arrested on charges of stealing money. In Jhabua, local news media recently reported a spate of child deaths linked to malnutrition in several villages. Investigators later discovered 3,500 fake food ration booklets in the district, believed to have been issued by low-level officials for themselves and their friends. Inside the district hospital, Mr. Bhuria said he had applied three times for a food ration card, but the clerk had failed to produce one.

Though there are saner voices heard amongst the ruling elites that control the destiny of this nation, as a collective system riddled with muddled policies and inefficient management it does not inspire any confidence that the present trend can be reversed. The crorepati law makers, insincere bureaucrats and exploitative private contractors cannot be expected to loosen their grip on the economy and its management in the foreseeable future, giving very little hope that at least the next generation would see a better to morrow. No wonder that poor and down trodden people are placing more faith in extra constitutional outfits indulging in fighting the government of the day, rather than the lawful administrative set up, to get their due share of fruits of development.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


"Heart attack" is commonly perceived as a result of cholesterol build up on the arterial walls due to excessive consumption of fatty foods, especially the ones rich in saturated fats. But what causes the cholesterol to stick to the arterial tissue is not that well understood. The routine testing of blood cholesterol levels and assessing the value against some notional ranges are considered adequate to conclude whether some body is vulnerable to heart attack or not. Also the relationship between circulating cholesterol and the extent of plaque build up inside the artery is obscure. The argument by a few experts that inflammation is the cause of cholesterol build up inside the arteries is not universally accepted though there is some logic in this proposition. Following is an excerpt from the writings of the reputed cardiac surgeon Dr Dwight Lundell, forwarded by one of the readers of this Blog, Mr Thomas Mathai from Mysore which is quite informative though for a layman it can be some what confusing.

"The only accepted therapy was prescribing medications to lower cholesterol and a diet that severely restricted fat intake. The latter of course we insisted would lower cholesterol and heart disease. Deviations from these recommendations were considered heresy and could quite possibly result in malpractice. It Is Not Working! These recommendations are no longer scientifically or morally defensible. The discovery a few years ago that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease is slowly leading to a paradigm shift in how heart disease and other chronic ailments will be treated. The long-established dietary recommendations have created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences. Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before. Statistics from the American Heart Association show that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease, 20 million have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes. These disorders are affecting younger and younger people in greater numbers every year.Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped".

All said and done, it is common sense that if one lives a life of moderation, the possibility of acquiring any of the life style disorders is indeed remote. A balanced diet containing just enough calories to meet the demands of day to day activities, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber as evolved over a period of time and avoiding sedentary life style can be expected to maintain the correct BMI and provide reasonable guarantee against serious health ailments as one grows. Overwhelming predominance of factory processed foods over natural foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and others can pose a serious challenge in maintaining health in a prime state.


Monday, September 13, 2010


The legendary septic tank which ushered in the toilet revolution in India is all set to make its debut in a western country and the purpose is not night soil disposal but generation of power at the farm level using local crops. Gobar gas system which became a standard feature in many rural farms basically generate methane gas for self consumption and these are mostly small scale operations insufficient to generate power. The process in absence of Oxygen uses a mixed culture of microorganisms uses many organic matters which include waste paper, grass and other farm wastes, left over food, sewage, animal waste etc. Though the primary intention is to dispose off the waste, it also serves to reduce emission of landfill gases to the atmospheres considered to be responsible for global warming and generates a biogas mixture containing mostly Methane (50-75%), CO2 (25-50%), and small quantities of Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Hydrogen Sulfide and Hydrogen. While small scale generators mostly use the gas for house hold cooking, medium scale units can yield power by burning just like fossil fuels. A typical anaerobic digester using municipal waste can generate about700 to 1300 kWH per ton of refuse. That anaerobic digestion approach is seriously being considered in the UK for generating power and production subsidization by the government there may be a good news for the eventual viability of the technology.

First up, energy firm Farmgen broke ground on the first in a wave of anaerobic digestion plants, designed to provide farmers with an additional revenue stream from "energy farming". The £2.5m project at Carr Farm in Warton, Preston will be the first AD plant built under Farmgen's proposed £30m UK-wide investment programme. Local crops will be used to create biogas that will generate 1MW of electricity, which will then be exported to the national grid. Farmgen said that it also plans to build a second £2.5m plant in Silloth, Cumbria later this year and is preparing planning applications for sites in Lancashire and Staffordshire. The coalition government has earmarked the accelerated roll out of AD plants as a key part of its renewable energy strategy and last month launched a consultation designed to assess how new policies could help increase support for the emerging sector. Under the existing feed-in tariff scheme, farmers or businesses installing AD systems generating up to 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year are eligible for payments of 11.5p per kWh, while those installing larger systems producing 500kWh to 5MW receive 9p per kWh. Industry insiders have warned that the rates are not currently high enough to drive the widespread roll out of AD plants and have been calling on the government to increase in the incentive. In related news, airport operator BAA announced yesterday that it has signed a deal with food management firm Vertal that will see travellers food and drink waste turned into fertiliser for use on local farms. The company said that food waste from Heathrow's daily 180,000 passengers will be collected separately and sent to Vertal's recycling facility in South London where it will be composted within 72 hours. It added that it hoped the initiative would save carbon emissions equivalent to around half a million air miles. Vertal founder and managing director Leon Mekitarian said he hoped the deal would encourage other firms with large amounts of food waste to invest in composting technology to reduce their carbon footprint.

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) of the UNO recognizes anaerobic digestion approach as one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply at low capital cost compared to that required for large power plants. In India this technology has remained more or less at the house hold and community level for which government extends economic incentives.But it has the potential to be a viable route to the energy grid in the country if proper policy initiatives are forthcoming from GOI. The enormous Municipal wastes generated all over the urban townships, collected and sent to landfills must be harnessed to produce energy through the anaerobic digestion system. Same is true with organic wastes emanating from industrial processing centers. Probably providing reasonable prices to the privately generated energy may trigger higher interest amongst the entrepreneurs to set up such facilities.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


Relentless pursuit of antioxidant containing foods has thrown light on an unlikeliest source which is reported to be equal to blueberries in terms of this health protecting phytochemical. Ordinarily rice would never be considered as a source of anthocyanins though brown rice does contain small amounts. A variety of rice with historic connections to ancient Chines Kingdom, known as "forbidden rice" with intense black color, if not polished in the mill, is being touted as a future candidate for commercial promotion amongst the health fads. Black rice, also referred to as Indonesian rice is cultivated to a limited extent in some Asian countries for its flavor and taste. Compared to many white rice varieties, this version has non-pasty cooking characteristics. Its rich anthocyanin content and presence of higher fiber level and other nutrients like iron and vitamin E, seem to have attracted the attention of the industry looking for new products on the health platform. What is not realized is that health credentials alone do not make a product acceptable to the consumer and lot needs to be done to evolve main stream products familiar to the consumer from this obscure raw material.

"How would you like something with more anti-oxidants than blueberries for dinner tonight? If you're health conscious, sure you would. So meet the hot new food fadblack rice bran. Zhimin Xu of LSU (right) used his standard procedure — chemical constituent analysis of grains for General Mills' Bell Institute — and found a spoonful of black rice brancontains more anthocyanin antioxidants than a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, more fiber, and more Vitamin E. It costs a lot less, too. Xu also found the pigments in black rice may be healthier than current artificial food coloring, and can be used to produce a wide variety of colors.He suggested black rice bran could also be used to boost the health characteristics of manufactured foods like cereals and snack cakes. (I'm thinking Ding Dongs.) Xu presented his findings last week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society and the reaction was immediate. The CBS lede was a bit misleading though — it's the bran that packs the punch, not the rice itself. Black rice is really just brown rice with a different pigment. The bran is the key".

Some times one wonders the direction in which food research is moving and this is a typical example of raising expectations which are bound to be unfulfilled in the foreseeable future. There are many better sources of antioxidants and they are much more preferred than rice especially amongst non-rice eating population. Even those who eat rice as staple, the consumer preference has been for white rice, polished to the maximum extent though brown rice is also consumed to a limited extent. Rice bran to day is considered a good source of edible oil and the economics of rice mills are closely linked to the income from rice bran, a by-product of the industry.