It is no secret that as the world gets smaller; the people who inhabit it are getting larger. Our jobs and our lifestyles, no longer warrant the inexpensive high calorie diets so readily available to most of us. Developed industrial nations especially, are prone to sedentary lifestyles wherein most people spend their 9 to 5 behind a desk versus behind a plow. While exercise and a well-balanced is diet is still the best prescription for healthy living, often time’s fresh fruits and vegetables are often out of reach – physically for city dwellers living in food deserts, and/or financially for lower income families.

We are all as guilty as the next guy when it comes to eating right or exercising regularly. Family, work, friends all occupy our time. Fresh foods can cost more, may take longer to prepare, and have a shorter shelf life. We find ourselves between soccer games and commutes grabbing a quick bite or snack to tide us over until the next meal. However, instead of grabbing that bag of chips, what if we reached for something with more substance and nutritional value.

The food industry (often in conjunction with the federal government) has for decades looked for ways to incorporate vitamins and minerals into our diets. Iodine in salt, vitamin D in milk, fortified cereals, and fluoridated toothpastes are some examples of early offerings. Vitamin supplements and electrolyte replacing liquids have been around for decades. Vitamin enhanced water and protein rich smoothies are a few recent examples of ‘enhanced’ products from the consumer food industry as well as many entrants from the rapidly expending nutraceutical industry.

What is nutraceutical? Is that even a real word? Well yes, not only is it a real word – it’s a billion dollar industry! The term nutraceutical is a combination or ‘portmanteau’ of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical and is defined as a “… fortified food or dietary supplement that provides health benefits in addition to its basic nutritional value.”

A lot of work goes into sourcing ingredients, extracting nutritional components and processing raw material into a usable form – whether it’s a dry powder, a paste, or liquid slurry. Extraction can be done in a variety of ways including ‘old fashioned’ methods of drying; grinding; and pressing, to new techniques that may include ultra-sound and microwave assisted extraction; accelerated solvent extraction, and my favorite – supercritical fluid extraction. Continuous evaporation and drying machines – such as the Readco SCP – efficiently utilize heat and vacuum to separate liquids from solids so that one or both of the outputs can be utilized or recycled.

A common method in supplement and nutraceutical manufacturing after extraction is to mix ingredients together in what is known as a V Blender – essentially a “V” shaped mixing apparatus that contains an impeller and spins on a horizontal axis. V-blenders are common because they are relatively inexpensive. However, inefficiencies in the design as well as those inherent to batch mixing eventually get passed down along the supply chain – ultimately being paid for by the end user. Unlike a V blender, or batch mixer in general, a continuous processor allows for an almost infinite number of impeller or mixing arrangements based on the paddle and screw arrangement. Additionally, processors with VFD – variable frequency drive – motors are better able to control throughput. Also, many continuous processors are self-cleaning and can mix both wet and dry ingredients in the same mixing chamber.

Utilizing continuous extraction and processing in the nutraceutical industry can achieve tremendous economies of scale -which any executive can tell you – leads to a healthier bottom line. Something to think on the next time you reach for that vitamin and mineral packed health bar made with extracted ingredients from the latest tropical island wonder fruit and infused with the nectar of that unassuming desert cactus flower.

Supercritical Fluids (SCF) & Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE). University of Illinois, Chicago. http://tigger.uic.edu/~mansoori/SCF.and.SFE.by.TRL.at.UIC.pdf. Last viewed 11/3/14

Nutraceutical. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nutraceutical. Last viewed 10/16/14

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