Aug 31, 2020 News Comments Off on Purple Sweet Potatoes in Guyana’s Hinterland: A Nutraceutical Goldmine
Kaieteur News has over the past several weeks reported on a remarkable series of local products and businesses developed by the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST). The Institute, which is located on the University of Guyana Campus in Turkeyen, has been able to harness local innovation and local resources to showcase the immense potential of Guyana’s agricultural, forestry, tourism, technology, and tertiary manufacturing sectors.
KN has not only focused on the products, but on the unique business models employed and the various processes which are important across the innovation spectrum. It has been a fascinating and inspirational journey and many have responded enthusiastically to the series of articles. In particular, during a period when the world and Guyana is gripped in the clutches of a deadly pandemic and having just come out of a dark period of political turmoil, these series of articles endeavour to provide sunshine sketches of hope. They also seek to underscore that with focus and the development of a skilled and qualified labor force, Guyana’s future can be bright as well as self-determined.
The in-depth dive into the nature and exploitation of innovation in this country has also highlighted many of the hidden and seldom-appreciated aspects of the innovation life cycle. In part, because Guyana has so few examples of innovation-led local products and businesses, ours is not a culture that embraces the role of research and technology in development. Kaieteur has also noted, at a time when Guyana is a destination for a large number of foreign workers in the Oil and Gas industry and as foreign investments have begun to vastly outstrip local ventures, there has been a groundswell of support for all things local. One such manifestation has been the amazing response that the IAST’s Pakraima Flavours Ketchup has had in the local fast-food sector. In a matter of weeks, the Guyanese public has voted with their taste buds – the most frequently requested ketchup at Church’s Chicken outlets is prefaced with “bannas lewwe get de PK Ketchup.”
This publication is therefore motivated to continue our focus on the institute’s work. This week, we highlight a project and product which climbs further up the value chain. The product, to be launched under the brand Kaieteur Nutraceuticals, is called SAK. Sak is a Patamona word, meaning ‘potato’. This focus on highlighting the Indigenous languages and culture as part of the marketing strategy of the products is one of the deliberate strategies adopted by the institute. It is also smart advertising; linking human, anthropological, geographical, environmental, and historical narratives to products develop deep and complex relationships between brands and consumers.
The product, a nutraceutical drink, and powder mix, is made from deep purple sweet potatoes indigenous to the high savannahs and Pakaraima and Kanuku mountain ranges of Guyana. Like so many of the products the Institute has developed in collaboration with the nation’s Amerindians, the origins of this product dates back to millennia-old usage among Guyana’s indigenous peoples. In many Amerindian communities, there is a deep purple and sometimes deep red alcoholic drink consumed, variously called fly or tonic. IAST’s Director, Professor Suresh Narine, explained to KN that deep bright colors in edible materials are usually indicative of components that absorb different wavelengths of visible light, which is responsible for their brilliant colors. In many instances, compounds that absorb these wavelengths of light are polyphenols, which perform a plethora of healthful functions in the human body. The chemical structure of polyphenolic compounds, Narine says, is an elegant example of a purpose-built world, as these compounds draw attention to themselves because of their brilliant hues and because of the same structure which is colored, also perform a variety of essential functions in our bodies. ‘The universe is communicating with us constantly”, Narine says; “to scientists, it is a privilege to learn its language and recognize its symbols. It is also important to note that not all polyphenols in plants are good for us, but those that are, tend to be super-beneficial.” Nutraceuticals are foods that have specific components that deliver interventive and beneficial biochemical functions in the body. As a result, these foods perform both nutritive and pharmaceutical functions and are therefore referred to as “nutraceuticals.”
According to IAST’s Deputy Director, Mr. Deonarine Jagdeo, the institute’s collaboration with Guyana’s Amerindians, stretching back since the tenure of IAST’s founding Director, Dr. Neville Trotz, has been a source of inspiration, ideas and ensuring partnership. The birth of SAK was similar; institute staff were intrigued as to the ancillary benefits of the very tasty fly which is often only sampled by coastlanders during Amerindian Heritage month. Because of its indicative brilliant purple and the claims from Macushi and Patamona partners regarding its health benefits, the IAST was motivated to further investigate the nutritive and pharmaceutical benefits of the purple potatoes. The Institute’s collaboration with the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research at Trent University in Canada allowed what is described as a “bioprospecting” project to be undertaken.
Readers would all be familiar with the figure of a Guyanese Pork-knocker – headed off to brave the hinterland, “prospecting” for gold and diamonds. Mahendra Rampersaud, who is the Head of the Institute’s “Bioprospecting” Department and who holds a BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Guyana, indicated; “the array of solutions that nature in general and Guyana’s botanical biodiversity in particular offer makes searching for nutraceuticals in Guyana’s hinterland similar to prospecting for diamonds and precious metals.”
Rampersaud indicates that the IAST staff were astounded when initial analytical reports from the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research of the components of purple sweet potato samples collected in Paramakatoi, Region 8, were received. The report was compiled by Navindra Soodoo, a Guyanese student pursuing his Doctoral degree in Environmental and Life Sciences at Trent University under Narine’s supervision. Soodoo and Narine’s analysis indicates that purple sweet potatoes used in fly by Guyana’s Amerindians contain among the highest levels of phenolic compounds called anthocyanins ever reported. Anthocyanins are phenolic compounds that perform important antioxidant functions in our bodies; they are super-components for combating cardiovascular disease, improving circulation, and preventing cancer. Blueberries are, for example, one of the world’s better-known sources of antioxidants. Remarkably, among the several varieties of purple sweet potatoes used by Guyana’s Amerindians in fly, there are more than 200% of the number of antioxidants found in blueberries.
Rampersaud enthused, “finding these high levels of a nutritional component in a plant which can be cultivated and has been used for more than 7, 000 years is like striking a major gold vein, in the world of bioprospecting.” The IAST therefore wasted no time in conducting field investigations in the Rupununi Savannahs and the North Pakaraima Mountains to identify and characterize the various types of purple sweet potatoes indigenous to these regions. Six (6) dominant varieties were identified and their taxonomy characterized as well as their types and levels of anthocyanins and other nutritional components. Mr. Brijesh Singh, an agriculturist who has worked on the project with the IAST, indicates; “we are currently completing a groundbreaking report to an academic journal of the various varieties found and their husbandry, taxanomy and other agricultural details. Several of these varieties are unknown to the scientific literature and all of them are novel as they have never been reported on before.
KN has become accustomed to Narine saying, “Anyone can make a good thing; it takes many hands working in collaboration and with a combined focus to make a good thing.”
“These astounding findings”, Narine says, “are sufficient to make any scientific team break out the Eldorado or XM 15-year-old Rum. However, to make a good and useful thing out of this finding requires much more work, planning, and many more hands than just a scientific project.” KN will next week detail the work that went into creating a product that is already in its beta testing phase has acquired a loyal and enthusiastic following, and will explain why the product’s marketing tagline is “Purple is the New Blue!”
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