Ayana Bio leverages cellular cultivation to extract high-value cacao polyphenols to fortify F&B
19 Jan 2023 --- Plant cell tech firm Ayana Bio is pledging US$3 million to accelerate cacao bioactive production using cellular cultivation, part of a strategy to boost efforts in curbing the many challenges plaguing the cacao industry, such as climate change, deforestation and child labor.
Ayana Bio will use this fund to expedite the commercialization of cacao wellness ingredients and prioritize research to link the genetic profiles of different cacao varieties with specific health benefits and usage applications to expand partnerships with CPG companies.
Ayana Bio is producing cacao using its proprietary plant cell cultivation technology, which produces plant materials without growing plants in the ground.
Cacao contains biologically active compounds that support healthy digestion, cardiovascular health, cognition and immunity while reducing the risk of inflammation and diabetes.
However, traditional harvesting methods are expensive and unsustainable and have been linked to numerous supply chain challenges, including child labor, farmer poverty, pests, climate change and deforestation.
The company also cites the benefits of chocolate, ginseng, ginger, saffron or berries without the land, irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides required by agriculture.
Cellular cultivation of cacao
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Effendi Leonard, chief technology officer of Ayana Bio, examines the use of proprietary plant cell technology rather than agriculture to create plant bioactives – like those from cacao – for CPG brands, overcoming the sustainability, purity, safety and ethical concerns in current supply chains.
“Published clinical studies on cacao polyphenols have shown myriad health benefits, including cardiovascular and brain health, but traditional harvesting methods make them unsustainable to obtain and produce. As a result, cacao polyphenol extracts are very expensive, which limits their use as a health & wellness ingredient in consumer products,” Leonard explains.
“While there may be other plant cell companies working on cacao, they are focused on producing confectionery chocolate. Ayana Bio is focused solely on using cellular cultivation methods to extract high-value cacao polyphenols to be used as cost-effective ingredients across food, beverages and dietary supplement products.”
Cacao is among the first of many bioactive products in Ayana Bio’s pipeline, including berries, ginseng, echinacea, ginger and other high-value botanicals.
Ayana Bio’s cacao bioactives plan to be ready for commercialization by late 2024.
Ayana Bio will produce cacao bioactives using its proprietary plant cell cultivation technology, which grows cacao biomass from the most optimized cell lines in stainless-steel tanks, similar to brewing beer. According to the company, this will yield identical molecular mixtures found in nature – or with even higher concentrations of beneficial bioactives.
These bioactives yield identical molecular mixtures of the cacao found in nature – or even higher concentrations of the most beneficial bioactives.
“For example, these cacao bioactives can be used to fortify food and beverage products like chocolate milk, which typically lacks health benefits, or they can be used outside of regular chocolate products, such as dietary supplements, to increase the nutritional value without having any impact on taste or texture,” Leonard continues.
Part of the idea is to build up the nutritional value of cacao.
The food items that make up the average diet today are often calorie-rich but nutrient-poor.
Ayana Bio is targeting how to increase the availability of bioactives that impart health benefits so they can help address some of the crucial challenges facing society, such as obesity.
“Overall, the nutrients traditionally found in fruit and vegetables need to be cheaper and more widely available. The recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health has placed new pressure and scrutiny on the world’s largest CPG companies to make healthier, more affordable products. However, a new study by ATNI has revealed CPGs are failing to make significant progress despite big pledges,” Leonard adds.
“Traditional production methods are currently unable to meet the nutrient requirements of the world population. We need to be working now on new forms of production that can grow shelf-stable versions of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, plants and botanicals at an affordable scale.”
This is where Ayana Bio’s technology comes in and where cacao bioactives can play a role in bringing CPGs cost-effective ingredients with nutritional benefits without the current strain on the agricultural system, he notes.
Benefits of high polyphenol cacao extracts
Cacao polyphenols are one of the most studied compounds to impart human health benefits and are linked to reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol and blood sugar.
But Leonard says that consumers may also seek cacao products to improve their digestion, cognition and immunity.
“Moreso, consumers seek out cacao products because everyone wants to be healthier, and most people love chocolate – and what’s better than getting more healthy benefits from the food that you already love?” he flags.
What are researchers looking for?
Leonard notes that the genetic profiles the company research will unearth will allow the team to focus on producing high polyphenol cacao extracts to impart benefits to consumer packaged goods that typically lack nutritional value, and to explore how they can be used beyond polyphenol production across industries, like disease resistance.
Producing cacao bioactives to use as ingredients in food, beverage and health and wellness products is increasingly important.
Research shows a daily recommendation of flavan-3-ols, found in cacao, can reduce the risk associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“We hope that CPG companies view our pledge as a call to action to invest in cacao bioactives to bring consumers these valuable nutrients without putting additional stress on our current agricultural system. We would be excited to partner with companies using botanical ingredients or that are interested in introducing botanical ingredients into their products to join us in our mission to expand consumer access to the properties and power of cacao bioactives,” adds Leonard.
“What’s really exciting to us is to think about the future - what new CPG applications can we and others enable by living in a world where plant bioactives are widely available?”
What happens next?
Leonard concludes that the Ayana Bio team has now developed an extensive library of cacao cell lines, collecting the cacao’s underlying genetic and metabolomic profiles. They can now “piece” these profiles together to systematically and rapidly select an “elite” cacao line.
“Some of these elite lines will then enter several evaluation stages to ensure that they have the desired robustness before a scale-up/mass production campaign,” he says.
By Gaynor Selby
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