So you are in a lockdown during the Christmas break?
Faced with few choices to make you feel better, perhaps you head for the fridge. But then guilt takes over and you realise you would be putting on weight, when what you would need to do is boost immunity.
Indian food entrepreneurs are waking up to this new million dollar opportunity in food, one which can combine the elements of health with something that does not taste like medicine.
“Exploring the Era of Food innovation : Tends in Food Processing ecosystem”
At a conference on “Exploring the Era of Food Innovation : Tends in the Food Processing ecosystem,” Dr Suman Khanuja, scientist and agri biotech mentor said : “The consumer or person who has to eat the food is not only looking at the health factor. He wants to know what it looks like, how it feels, what is the colour and smell like.”
“Whether the food texture is something that sticks to my teeth. That creates an opportunity for scientific research,” he added.
Beyond the traditional food staples which may trigger health concerns like obesity, Khanuja said he is exploring with a new generation of farmers who produce specialized food, which may be rich in things such as nutraceuticals that boost immunity or laden with Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain.
Neglected crops may have all the answers
The search for such food may not require any intense scouring. The answers often are found in neglected crops such as Amaranthus — a possible substitute for cereals — that are known as pseudo cereals, which have high protein content and fibre-rich that aids digestion.
“If you look at it, you know that the creator created it with the intention to feed humanity,” says Khanuja.
Maybe your grandmother fed you drumsticks (Moringa) when you were down with fever or any other disease so that you have to take fewer medicines. A common enough ingredient in South Indian dishes such as sambhar (lentil curry) and even in Bengal, it does indeed have healing powers, says Khanuja.
“Moringa can be easily grown with other crops by the farmer,” he highlighted.
Pomegranates can be an excellent source for a beverage infusion that can be taken instead of tea or coffee. Always treasured as a light food, it now emerges that certain chemical ingredients in watermelons can reduce muscle fatigue and can substitute protein supplements needed by those over 60.
Abhinav Srivastava, head of regulatory policy and intelligence at Amway India, said that customers are increasingly looking for food supplements that are not just needed to fulfill a deficiency.
They are also looking for customized food solutions that are meant for a certain age group of people. “Sometimes people are coming with demands like how can I have more protein in my ice-cream.”
Even the humble rice, an everyday staple especially in Asia, is also capable of fulfilling nutritional needs and not just a hunger-killer.
N.B. Sridhar, senior business development manager, rice fortification DSH, said they are working on how to pack more nutritional punch in each grain.
“We look at what kind of vitamins that can be added. But we want to keep it as close as possible to regular rice,” he said.
They have been able to come up with a nutrient-rich rice that cooks in about ten minutes, which is the same as regular rice though each region in India cooks the grain in a different way. “Micro nutrients are embedded in the kernel,” he added.
Such a program is vital in India, where 14% of the population is undernourished, and is among 88 countries that are likely to miss global nutrition targets by 2025.
These targets include reducing stunting in children under five years by 40% and prevalence of anaemia among women by 50% in the age group of 19-49 years.
Varun Deshpaande, managing director of The Good Food Institute, said they are working on plant foods that can be a substitute for meat and dairy as protein-rich foods are often resource intensive.
Besides promoting better and healthier lifestyles, such foods can also potentially reduce global warming and reduce climate change, he added.