Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Who does not know that the ubiquitous Peanut, also known as Groundnut in India, is a veritable source of nutrients including proteins? It was long ago that nutritionists in India were focusing on Peanut as a panacea for solving the so called protein malnutrition supposed to be prevailing among a large segment of low income population and the deoiled residue with more than 50% protein was used to design many products, most famous of which was Indian Multi Purpose Food (MPF). MPF was even being manufactured by some industry for almost two decades for general sales as well for use in applied nutrition programs of the government. There was also the famous Groundnut Milk and Curd which were promoted as low cost substitutes to animal milk counterparts which were in short supply during nineteen fifties, sixties and seventies. For reasons which are not very clear, these products never got established though similar products from Soybean are still in the market. It is in this context that a recent report highlighting the virtues of Peanut caught the eye of many observers. Here is a take on this development reported in a far away place, Haiti.

"The product goes by different names in different parts of the world, such as Plumpy'Nut, Nourimanba and Chiponde. It's basically peanut butter with some added ingredients: dried milk, oil, sugar, and essential minerals and vitamins. It's been so successful that some public health officials now are pushing to expand its use. It wouldn't just be a treatment to save a life, but a snack to keep kids healthy in the first place. There's one catch: The proponents of this strategy still have to show that it really works. And that's why, in a clinic in the city of Cap-Haitien, on the northern coast of Haiti, 16-month-old Renande Raphael is getting laid out flat in a wooden box so that nurses can measure how much she's grown. After getting measured, Renande will get something else: a pile of little foil-wrapped snacks. Enough to eat one every day for a month. She's been getting them for the past six months. Sherlie Jean-Louis, a nurse with a quiet voice and a huge smile who's helping to run this trial program, explains that the packages contain about four teaspoons' worth of peanut paste that's been fortified with lots of essential nutrients, such as zinc, iodine, iron and lots of vitamins. It's a smaller version of the more famous peanut butter product that's used to treat children who are suffering from severe malnutrition".

Of course Peanut butter is one of the most favored snack items among the children as well as adults in the US, obviously because of its characteristic flavor and taste and there are hundreds of products based on peanut butter flooding the market there. There is hardly a value added product based on peanut in India which can compare with many international products. Peanut chikki, masala coated peanuts etc are made by cottage scale sector which is technology starved, turning out pathetic looking packets with no assured quality or safety. Though India is a major Peanut producing country, second to China, most of it goes for oil extraction or for direct house hold consumption. The protein rich residue is fed to cattle and poultry, though it can be utilized for human consumption if adequate precaution is taken by the processing units. A serious flaw with Peanut protein is that its Methionine (an essential amino acid) content is not satisfactory compared to a standard balanced protein like Casein and there for it has to be used in conjunction with another protein source rich in Methionine amino acid. The product now being touted is reported to be fortified with milk powder and hence may be a good product from nutritional angle. The Peanut allergy that is prevalent among many people is a major constraint in using Peanut based products for universal use as a nutritious food.


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