This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes to develop innovative baby food products with optimized nutritional value. The research objective is to establish optimized processing methods through mechanics-based approaches to enhance nutrient bioavailability and palatability of underutilized leafy vegetables. The intellectual merit of this proposal is derived from our unique focus on applying "mechanics of materials" approaches to food systems as a means to naturally optimize nutritional value, as opposed to genetic modification, food fortification, or overprocessing methods. Using this proprietary technology, the company will first develop a focused baby food product with optimized nutritional value to help improve infant nutrition, and then expand to develop a range of food products targeting different stages of childhood development.
The broader impact/commercial potential of this project, if successful, will be to promote healthy development of infants and children, and to prevent childhood obesity through the creation of high nutritional value food products for the US market. The scientific innovation behind these food products in understanding and optimizing nutrient absorption from foods through natural means could impact food industry practices, and local agricultural development, farmer education, and jobs in rural communities. The company will partner with regional US farmers as a source of raw plant materials. In the US, baby food products are a large market ($10 billion), with increasing demand for natural, organic products. In developing nutritious food products from natural raw materials with minimal processing, the company will have significant competitive advantages over other food products.
This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project aimed to develop Innovescaâ€™s first highly nutritional product—an ingredient based on amaranth leaves—with the ultimate goal of improving nutrition both at home and abroad. Specifically, this project explored the complex relationship between food structure and nutrient bioavailability, or the bodyâ€™s ability to access and absorb nutrients during digestion. Because the human body cannot effectively digest plant matter, much of the nutrient content remains trapped in the food structure, inaccessible for the body to absorb. By focusing on how the micro-scale structure of foods affects nutrient bioavailability, we developed a platform technology to determine the optimal processing of whole foods with the goal of enabling the body to access and absorb more nutrients per bite. In this SBIR Phase I project, we applied this core technology to amaranth leaves—an underutilized superfood packed with critical micronutrients (such as lutein, beta-carotene, calcium, and iron) and found throughout much of the world. Towards determining the optimal processing method for amaranth leaves, we produced a range of dried amaranth ingredients using different processing parameters, characterized the resulting micro-scale structures, and assessed nutrient release of key vitamins and minerals through simulated digestion. Phase I results provided proof-of-concept evidence that optimized processing methods are critical in developing an effective nutritional ingredient from plants. As a key outcome of Phase I, we developed an initial ingredient prototype from amaranth leaves that can be used to boost the nutritional value of packaged food products, from nutrition bars and granola to baby foods and veggie burgers. The intellectual merit of this project is derived from the unique focus on naturally optimizing nutritional value, as opposed to genetic modification, synthetic fortification or overprocessing methods employed by the food industry. This project is transformative as we aimed to revolutionize food production based on scientific principles through introducing new methods and innovative ways of thinking about food systems. The broader impact of this work is two-fold. First, to combat malnutrition in the US, this project promoted health and wellness through the development of plant-based ingredients from which the body can access more nutritional content per bite; these ingredients will be sold into the US Nutraceuticals market to enable food companies to boost the nutrition of healthy consumer packaged goods in a natural and scientific way. Second, this project had a positive impact on local farm development, education and jobs, both in the US and abroad. In developing scientific ingredients from natural plant materials and through minimal processing, Innovesca has created a significant competitive advantage over currently available food ingredients that do not consider the nutrient bioavailability problem and/or use synthetic methods to extract micronutrients for fortification of food products.