Brightseed and ofi harness AI in plant-science probe into black pepper and garlic health benefits
13 Jan 2022 --- Biosciences data company Brightseed and olam food ingredients (ofi) have teamed up to explore which black pepper and garlic varieties deliver the highest levels of bioactives. Brightseed will use its Forager artificial intelligence (AI) platform to identify complex molecular structures and novel compounds in these spice categories.
Forager will analyze and spotlight how different regions, cultivars, growing conditions and processing methods impact phytochemical expression and bioactive potency across multiple areas of human health for ofi’s black pepper estates and its US-based garlic sources.
Greg Estep, managing director and CEO of ofi’s spices business, tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “We saw an opportunity with black pepper and garlic because of ofi’s years of investment in plant science, identifying and developing the best quality varieties of black pepper and garlic for our customers. Plus, medical research has already shown health benefits exist in black pepper and garlic.”
“So, this partnership allows us to explore what benefits exist within our specific varieties and potentially help drive future innovation at our ingredient excellence centers at-origin for these spices.”
The project will be supported by ofi’s innovation team working at ingredient excellence centers in Fresno, California and Vietnam.
“We see many possibilities to find gold. We believe insights from this partnership will give us greater understanding of our existing spice varieties and how to differentiate them through health, as opposed to solely by their flavor and color,” Greg Estep, managing director and CEO of ofi’s spices business.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for food that is healthy and traceable, so this research creates a lot of opportunity for ofi to match that demand with health data. We hope to continue innovating with and for our customers and living out our purpose by developing naturally good food and beverage solutions.”
Foraging for hidden bioactives
Medical research has already pinpointed that bioactives in black pepper and garlic may present medicinal qualities. However, not all compounds within these spices have been uncovered or explored for their total health benefits, and not all varieties are equal.
Forager seeks to identify the specific mechanisms of plant bioactives that likely correlate to a direct health benefit, thereby decoding the health impact of plant-based bioactive compounds and increasing the scientific understanding of these spices’ qualities.
“Even genetically identical plants express bioactives differently depending on a multitude of factors. That’s a challenge because we need to bring in metadata to understand the nuances across each variety, and to identify what are the exact variables that impact specific bioactive expression,” Sofia Elizondo, COO and co-founder of Brightseed, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Because of Forager’s high-resolution visibility, we can find these differences, but it’s also a huge undertaking when analyzing and comparing across multiple varieties and cultivars, many of which are seemingly identical on the surface.”
All of Forager’s discoveries undergo in vitro validation and enable a de-risked clinical trial process for innovation.
“Forager’s ability to predict bioactives for health applications already leap frogs traditional approaches by ten times. Forager employs metabolic inference to make increasingly accurate predictions of a plant's ability to produce specific metabolites, so these predictions aren’t random,” says Elizondo.
“In-vitro data is the first signal to confirm we’ve hit gold. It confirms biological efficacy through a predicted mode of action, possibly on par with or even superior to other well-studied compounds for a similar effect.”
Potent kitchen spices
Existing research has found that black pepper produces piperine, a bioactive and antioxidant that has the potential to inhibit tumor growth and enhance the bioavailability of some therapeutic drugs.
Meanwhile, studies have also shown that garlic contains strong beneficial properties that may prevent common chronic disease states and other pathologies.
“Throughout ofi’s history, we’ve invested in plant science, identifying and developing quality varieties of black pepper and garlic for our customers,” said Greg Estep, managing director and CEO of ofi’s spices business.
“Spices are largely valued for flavor but should also be explored for health applications. These data insights will help us unlock the health potential and differentiation in our spice supply and fuel future innovation. ofi continues to invest in its broad product portfolio through our customer solutions and ingredient excellence centers.”
Delving into the dark matter of nutrition
Sofia Elizondo, co-founder and chief operating officer of Brightseed, remarks: “We are thrilled to be working with ofi to drive consumer health conversations back to nature.”
Brightseed has previously teamed up with industry movers like Danone and Pharmavite. In January, it also identified special plant molecules for clearing liver fat and promoting metabolic health.
Last November, Ocean Spray Cranberries announced plans to leverage Brightseed’s Forager technology to profile the compounds in cranberries and their impact on human health.
With this collaboration, the cranberry supplier aims to have the “world’s most comprehensive” nutritional profile of the cranberry – including the cranberries’ previously unknown bioactive compounds and potential health benefits for immunity and cognition.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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