Indian innovations in probiotics and functional food shine as incubator drives production and commercialisation

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

One of the selected start-ups is Kongara Functional Nutrition Food, which claims to have produced "the world's first high-protein, high-lutein chilli with zero pungency". ©Getty Images
One of the selected start-ups is Kongara Functional Nutrition Food, which claims to have produced "the world's first high-protein, high-lutein chilli with zero pungency". ©Getty Images

Related tags India incubator Protein Probiotics Fermentation chilli

Indian entrepreneur incubation hub Biovalley Incubation Council has announced the five start-up products it will fund in the nutrition and biotechnology sectors, among them a high-protein chilli and a novel probiotic technology that speeds up fermentation.

After a hackathon at a medical fair in Delhi on February 23, Biovalley shortlisted 10 candidates for further assessment. At a March 25 event organised by Biovalley's parent company, AMTZ, this list was narrowed down to five final candidates.

They will receive funding, laboratories, machinery, and assistance with commercialisation to launch their products both in India and overseas. AMTZ will handle the funding required from the production through to the commercialisation stages.

Increased speed, decreased costs

Among the five selected start-ups is Sadhgama Biosciences, founded by J. Venkateshwar Rao, who has experience in medicinal chemistry R&D at companies like Novartis and GVK Pharma.

He is in the midst of developing a technology involving metabolite agnostics that trigger messenger RNA (mRNA), molecules that transmit genetic information from DNA to the ribosome.

This in turn leads to the accelerated growth of probiotic strains, reducing the time needed to produce probiotics and increasing yield outcome.

Rao had observed that the cost of commercial production made many probiotic products expensive for consumers, mainly due to the lengthy fermentation period, high quantity needed per product, and isolation process.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia​, he said: "The technology works to trigger mRNA, which leads to a higher rate of cellular growth in bacteria. In conventional fermentation, it would take about 10 days to grow one million bacteria. With this technology, we can grow one million to the power of 16 in 2.5 days.

"By speeding up the fermentation process, we can produce three batches of probiotics in the time it takes other companies to produce one. At the same time, the yield per batch is higher than that in conventional probiotic production; these factors will help to lower overall costs and therefore, commercial prices."

He is currently editing the technology to make it applicable to medicinal plants by increasing each plant's specific phytoactive ingredient.

"This updated technology can also be applied to curcumin, ginseng and yeast, therefore increasing our commercial opportunities," ​said Rao.

Biovalley will aid in the standardisation of the technology, trials to test its stability, patent support, commercial production outsourcing.

Hot and healthy

Also among the five finalists is Kongara Functional Nutrition Food, a start-up founded by Harita Kongara, who has a strong agro-engineering background and experience in developing medicinal phytoactive yield enhancements.

Kongara is developing a technology that will produce hybridised seeds that yield high-xanthophyll, capsaicin-free chillies, as well as enrich them with protein for functional food purposes. The company has already produced an initial specimen using this technology.

The process involves multiple cross-forms of breeding followed by varietal stabilisation, and has so far produced the world's first orange chilli with no pungency, and which is touted as the "highest standardised xanthophyll functional food"​.

In addition to xanthophyll and protein, the chilli also contains lutein and zeaxanthin. Kongara told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "We have standardised the process and increased the bioavailability of the phytonutrients in the chilli. This chilli also has zero pungency and no acrid taste.

"It is the world's first high-protein, high-lutein chilli with zero pungency. Our micro-injection technology also allows us to introduce flavour variety, whether it's very spicy, or something sweeter.

"At the same time, cross-breeding helps to stabilise the formulation in some cases, and is thus useful for the development of nutraceuticals and other functional foods."

Biovalley will assist the start-up with product prototyping, patent support, commercial production, product development and market access.

Commercial consideration

Biovalley CEO Amit Srivastava told NutraIngredients-Asia​ that the commercial advantage of Sadhgama's novel probiotic production technology was its promising potential in terms of economy of scale: higher productivity and lower production costs.

He added: "We do plan to tie up with big companies like DSM, DuPont or Chr. Hansen, because they are involved in the production of their own strains, so we can benefit them by helping them speed up the process and increase their yield.

"However, this will come later as the technology is still in the early stages, and Venkatesh has to fine-tune it before it is ready for commercial use."

Referring to Kongara's innovation, Srivastava said he selected it as he saw three 'big opportunities' for her product in India.

"Functional food is a fast-growing market, and this product will set a higher standard for consumers who, instead of consuming capsules and tablets, would rather consume more nutritious versions of their favourite foods, which feels more natural than taking capsules.

"Secondly, we've also had a company reach out to us to use the oleoresins in the chilli as an ingredient, because they were able to obtain a higher amount of oleoresins from this chilli than from other varieties.

"Thirdly, this innovation will lead to market disruption. Consumers will see it as a new, standalone type of chilli, not just as a variation of an existing species."

He added that with protein deficiency a prevalent issue in India and the population in general not being used to taking protein shakes or bars, such a product could help to fill the gaps in this area.

"Indians love chilli, and this is an easy way to get more protein to consumers without them feeling like they have to go out of the way to take supplements."

He further said there was opportunity for overseas expansion — in fact, Biovalley is looking to launch the product with grocery partners such as FairPrice in Singapore, Walmart in the US, and other major supermarket chains.

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