Consumers today do not just want food. Yes! not even healthy food. They want food that keep them healthy i.e. functional food. Neither do consumers want supplements, they are demanding plant-based supplements. Consumers are speaking with their wallets, paying top dollars for quality plant based products, driving the rapid growth of the multi-billion dollar phytochemical nutraceutical industry.
Surrounded with botanicals and diverse variety of plants in Asia, goodness from nature should be very affordable, why the above market price tag? The key issue lies in the inefficiency of current process in extracting the minute quantity, some lower than 1-2% of the bio-actives in plants. High cost of extraction couple with the never ending downward price pressure are probable reasons why phytochemical supplies from Asia are of diverse, often questionable quality.
Kosmode Health Singapore, a startup from National University of Singapore’s Food Science Technology Program was founded by Dr Huang Dejian and Ms Florence Leong to address this conundrum. Having invested more than a decade developing the patented Column-lessTM extraction technology, Dr Huang Dejian decided to team up with Ms Florence Leong, an Executive Advisor in NUS Enterprise, to incorporate Kosmode Health Singapore in November 2016.
Headquartered in Singapore, with a wholly owned subsidiary in Suzhou, Kosmode Health aims to enable access to nature’s health, ensuring that quality phytochemicals are accessible to all, rich or poor. The Founder’s vision is for Kosmode Health to be recognised as Asia’s most trusted partner in the development and supply of quality assured phytochemical ingredients for health advancement. “Our primary focus is not to do it ourselves but to help the food and supplement industry to meet the rising demand for functional foods and for phytochemical-based supplements,” said Ms Florence Leong.
Extraction & Fermentation Technology
Kosmode Health has two core technologies: extraction technology and fermentation technology. “We licensed the technologies developed within NUS and do further works within our company. The extraction technology is the core technology supporting the “Column-lessTM” method and “Zero wasteTM” processing method and was developed in Dr Huang’s lab,” explained Ms Florence.
“The current extraction method is through column chromatography. It requires a lot of land space for the columns and it is necessary to buy expensive columns with resins so that the bio-actives can bind to them for extraction. The whole system needs to be flushed with acid at the end of every production cycle, before restarting the cycle all over again. Because of the complex processes, the production cycle is much longer, energy consumption is high. The resins and acids are expensive, hence all these contribute to the cost of final extracts. Currently, the solvent recovery rate is low (typically the solvent used is ethanol), meaning that more solvent is needed and thus raises the cost; and it is not environmental-friendly.”
Dr Huang mentioned that the Column-lessTM method has been validated at one tonne scale manufacturing of cranberry proanthocyanidins (PAC). Higher PAC purity, faster production cycle and lower production cost that is multiple times lower than current standard method were achieved. Reasons for the higher cost efficiency can be attributed to lower energy consumption and higher solvent recovery rate of the Column-lessTM method. In addition, since non-ethanol based, food grade solvent is being used, the risk of toxicity and inflammability associated with ethanol is reduced. Preliminary data from one tonne scale manufacturing has shown that the Column-lessTM method is not only cost efficient but the lower release of solvent into the waste system and lower energy utilization means that it is also more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“Besides the cranberry PAC, we have also developed other ingredients such as Tart Cherry flavonoids known for its anti-inflammatory effect. The Tart Cherry flavonoids was extracted in response to a request by a US-based company. They are very happy with the quality of our Tart Cherry flavanoids,” said Ms Florence. Other in-house developed extracts include green coffee chlorogenic acids (for weight control), mung bean proteins (for muscle building), vegetable PAC (carbohydrate blocker for glycaemic index control and weight loss). “We aim to develop more quality phytochemicals from the rich abundance of botanicals in Asia. All these phytochemical ingredients can then be customised and be formulated into products in accordance to the specifications requested by customers,” Ms Florence Leong said.
Kosmode Health’s Zero wasteTM process method can also be used in valorising food waste from the food processing industry. For example, food wastes such as okara are generated in the manufacturing of soya bean drink and tofu, the coffee spend at the coffee machine, etc. Realising that these so-called waste are full of nutrition, Dr Huang uses one processing method to obtain 2 or more products from botanicals, generating zero to minimum wastage, which is called “Zero wasteTM process method”.
There is a lot potential in this cost-efficient, clean and green extraction technology, not only in food and supplements, but also for biomedical application such as looking at the natural precursors for certain pharmaceutical ingredients. Dr Huang said, “Right now, we have done 1 tonne scale validation for our extraction technology, but we are not in a production practice yet. We are still improving our technology to even be more effective, and we are deciding a suitable location to build our factory.”
The other core technology of Kosmode Health is the fermentation technology. The technology has been validated at 50 litre scale to produce red date wine. The red date wine is currently a gift item presented by NUS to VIPs visiting NUS research institute in Suzhou. According to Ms Florence, Kosmode Health’s main focus is to be a business partner, to partner anybody who faces challenges in extracting the goodness out of nature. “With our technology, we aim to be the contract R&D organisation to food industry and supplement industry, helping them to solve extraction and analytical problems. And at the same time, we are creating new ingredients from our backyard. If you want to know more about something inside a plant that might have anti-cancer effect, we can do the screening and analytics; then if you identify something that is active or effective against certain function, we will help you extract it. That is our business model – we will create and customise the ingredients for our partners.”
Dr Huang said, “As the name Kosmode Health which means “Health from the Universe” implies, our mission is to promote health, we are therefore using the fermentation technology to produce red date essence to expand access to the health benefits of red dates. The extraction technology will be applied in the production of bioactive ingredients from botanicals such as cranberries and tart cherries. In the fresh cranberry fruit, the PAC content is less than 0.05%. Many research shows that you won’t have any therapeutic effect by drinking cranberry juice because of the low PAC concentration. However, out from extraction, the PAC content can be up as high as 25% with our “Column-lessTM” method. That is many times of enrichment towards concentration, so that it is high enough to have therapeutic dosage. We are also looking at tart cherries because flavonoids are known to be anti-inflammatory with potential application in inflammatory conditions such as gout, inflammation of the gut, etc.”
The flavour and taste of the red date essence is ideal for most respondents based on their survey conducted during Innovfest unbound 2017. 93% of the 187 respondents like the taste and favour it. For the 7% who do not like the taste, either it is due to the presence of alcohol or too little alcohol for them. Many are interested in the red date essence not only for their own consumption but as a gift for friends or families.
More about Kosmode Health’s red date essence:
Q: How long is the shelf life of the red date essence? How much is the alcohol content in the essence?
A: At current packaging and left unopened, the red date essence can be kept for more than two years. But it must be consumed within a day or two once it has been open. This is because the Red Date essence has nothing but the pure goodness of red dates and 3.7% alcohol content for shelf life purposes. There is no added preservatives or sugar to extend its shelf life.
Q: Will you get intoxicated from drinking the red date essence since it is slightly alcoholic?
A: As a health tonic, the red date essence will be package in compact 50ml bottles and at low 3.7% the alcohol content is only sufficient for shelf life preservation. The alcohol content can be further level to around 2% if needed, however the shelf life impact will have to be studied.
Q: Is your red date essence suitable for diabetic patients?
A: There is no added sugar as preservatives, the red date essence therefore has very low sugar content. At 50ml or less per dose, it should not be an issue for diabetic patients. However, further validation has to be done.
We need to validate that. For now, it is basically low sugar content, but the dosage that diabetic patients can consume is still a question mark. If it is only a bottle which is 50ml, I don’t think there is any problem because the sugar level is low and should not raise the blood glucose at all or cause any concerns.
About the interviewee
Dr Huang Dejian, Associate Professor in Department of Chemistry, Food Science Technology Program in the National University of Singapore, is the ‘brain’ behind the Extraction Technology. Dejian’s expertise is globally recognized and solidify when Thomson Reuter list him as one of the world’s most influential scientist in the field of agri-science for 2 consecutive year in 2014 and 2015.