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High-tech gets to the root of nutrition

The humble carrot could be the superfood of the 21st century, if a pioneering farmer has his way, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Vito Rugani, co-founder of Greenway Farm and the Rugani carrot and juice brand, with the carrots that bear his name (Pic: ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK)

He discovered a dirty secret that underpinned not only carrot juice, but almost all fruit and vegetable juices: that their claimed nutritional benefits were almost non-existent. Most fruit juices were reduced to a concentrate, which would then be combined with water, preservatives and other additives to ready it for the shelves – often months after the fruit had been harvested. But even “fresh” carrot juice as it used to be made was lacking.

Rugani becomes somewhat technical as he explains what happened next.

“The key was the effective extraction of total soluble solids – the solids dissolved in a substance – to get maximum caratanoids, the source of beta-carotene, which has massive health benefits. Not only to get it out of the plant and vegetable root, but to get it into a bioavailable form in solution, but still viable as a source of nutrition. A total soluble solid is usually very difficult to extract, because you can’t just wash it out; you can’t just squeeze it and out it comes. 

“You could do that but then you’d get probably about 0.4 milligrams per hundred milligrams. But if you deliberately applied yourself extracting the total soluble solid through a relatively simple technology, you’d get over 10 milligrams. It’s nothing groundbreaking, just a mentality of how you’re treating the product.”

Vito Rugani at a display of his juices in the Randburg Fruit & Veg  Market, the first outlet to stock his juice  (Pic: ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK)

He came across a world-leading specialist in the topic, Professor Gabriele Di Giacomo of the University of L’Aquila in Italy. Rugani says: “He was one of those enthusiastic  scientists who realised the nutraceutical value of viable bio-available beta-carotene. And he said it’s not that hard. It can be done. And he was right. It was about a combination of freshness, the extraction technology, and viability of the end-product you want to get into the box.

“Put all that together, and you have superfood. Superfood is what everybody’s talking about but that very few people can do effectively on a commercial scale. I don’t think we’ve made any breakthroughs on the know-how, but it was definitely a breakthrough on the commercialisation of the know-how.”

The real advantage was that Rugani had 80 tons of carrots at his disposal – every single day.

“Most people, if they did the research, will also find the technology freely available, but to actually have 80 tons of fresh carrots every day, to get it into a container within hours, capturing it in a bio-available form, was a huge breakthrough in its own right. And you’re not going to do that from scratch. You have to be a carrot farmer to do that.”

The consequences of this breakthrough, he believes, goes far beyond his own brand.

“One of the things that the modern body is most short of is a viable and reliable source of beta-carotene. It’s the most powerful anti-cancer agent; it is known as a chemo preventive. Many scientists think that when beta-carotene is fully understood by the world one day, it is going to be as efffective to combat disease in human health as penicillin was in the last century.”

Visit the next page to read about the dirty secret of fruit juice.

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