Food Industry's New Wonder Substance
What natural substance has been proven to help individuals lose an average of eight per cent of their body weight in four weeks?
Here's a clue - the same substance has been shown in clinical trials to decrease blood cholesterol level significantly. The answer is Chitosan, a water-soluble fibre-like substance derived from natural Chitin, which is found in funguses as well as the shells and skeletons of crabs, prawn and other crustaceans.
Discovered by scientists as long ago as 1859, Chitosan was practically ignored for most of this century - until researches took another look at its many health-boosting properties in the 1970s.
Since then, bio-technologists have refined techniques to modify the molecular structure and weight of chitin for any number of health-giving and healing applications.
The amazing properties of Chitosan have been put to work in Japan, China and the United States, but only now has a Singapore company started manufacturing Chitosan and its derivatives for regional markets.
MarinEx is a joint venture between Singapore Bio-Innovations, the biotechnology and R7D high-end investment arm of the Economic Development Board (EDB), and the Singapore -based Wen Ken Group, one of the largest local pharmaceutical companies in the region.
Executive Director Cheong Wing Kiat says the company is planning to turn itself into "the Chitosan Specialist", using its expertise and research to promote a wide range of uses and applications for Chitosan, while educating the trade and the public about its benefits.
He says MarinEx is using state-of-the-art biotechnology to produce high quality marine-extract ingredients and pharmaceuticals, as well as health and skin care products that are effective in reducing fat and cholesterol levels and promoting skin rejuvenation.
MarinEx recently launched the first two of whole raft of products which are expected to come onto the marketplace in the months ahead - "Anti-Fat" and "Anti-Cholesterol".
Boxes of Chitosan capsules contained in blister packs, these health supplements are currently being sold in selected pharmacies, hospital pharmacies and medical halls in Singapore, Brunei and East Malaysia. Eventually, the company believes they will be sold through supermarkets that promote high-end health supplements.
MarinEx has also won a sales order to provide manage-pack services for its Anti-Fat product to a health company with regional sales in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Food Industry's New Wonder Substance
Company with regional sales in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Cheong says MarinEx uses only the best quality Chitosan for its two health supplements, with a large team of researchers, including biochemists, pharmacists, microbiologists and food technologists responsible for the purity and different properties of the products.
The reason why Chitosan works so well, according to scientific research in many parts of the world, is that its attracts and absorbs fat that is digested, carrying it through the intestinal tract and out of the body - in other words, less fat is absorbed into the body tissue. What's more Chitosan has been found to have no side effects.
The Benefits For Food Manufacturers
While Chitosan' uses at present may be limited to health supplements, Cheong is alive to a number of other applications that are likely to revolutionize such diverse areas as food processing and manufacturing, the way burns and stomach ulcers are treated, and even the kind of sticking plaster we sue to heal cuts.
Cheong says it is not uncommon for food manufacturers to add saturated fats to their products to improve the taste - an understatement where some fast-food companies are concerned.
"Chitosan binds to fatty acids so that they will not go into the body. Adding Chitosan helps to bind the fat so that the food will still retain its taste, but the fat will not be absorbed by the body," he says.
"Food manufacturers can apply Chitosan provided they know what kind to use and how to apply it. And we are there to help them.
"Besides developing and marketing our own MarinEx brand Chitosan health supplements, the company also aims to be a leader in supplying Chitosan and other marine extract ingredients to food manufacturers in this region," he says.
Cheong says MarinEx is planning to go into the food ingredients business after it has successfully established itself as "the Chitosan specialists."
The company also plans to introduce its own range of functional foods, containing Chitosan, further down the track.
"Besides using Chitosan and its derivatives in pharmaceuticals and health supplements, our researchers have spent many years experimenting with Chitosan in functional foods.
"We are ready to be an aggressive player in the fast growing food ingredients market. We are not only going to sell our marine extract ingredients. We also want to provide solutions and add-value to the food manufacturers by advising them on how they can add Chitosan to their food products for better health benefits.
"At the same time, we want to educate the public on the intrinsic value and wonders of Chitosan-based products," he says.
Cheong dismisses any speculation that MarinEx may attract the same kind of adverse publicity as companies producing genetically modified foods.
"We are using a natural ingredient - Chitin. All we are doing is modifying the molecular structure of Chitin and the molecular weight and other properties for different applications, so we are not taking genes from another species," he says.
"Chitosan is one of the best ingredients discovered this century - it has so many health benefits it's hard to understand why it hasn't been more widely used before."
Food Chain Asia
Issue #11, November 1999