YACON - FUNCTIONAL FOOD

Dr Robert Welch of NZ Yacon Ltd, Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris and TechNZ researcher Maria Revell with Yacon in its raw state.  Apple of the Earth

Yacon

Research by a University of Waikato postgraduate student is behind a new health drink being launched in the health-conscious Asian markets by a Hamilton-based company.

Developed by New Zealand Yacon Ltd (formerly NZ Biotechnologies), the prebiotic drink is a mix of blackcurrant juice and syrup made from yacon, a tuber originating from South America that has proven digestive health properties.

A year of research - Waikato student Maria Revell spent a year working with New Zealand Yacon analysing the particular sugar that gives the tuber its prebiotic properties as part of her Masters degree in chemistry.

“The sugar found in yacon is called a fructooligosaccharide or FOS sugar,” explains Revell. “It’s a natural prebiotic, and even diabetics can have it as only a tiny proportion is actually digested by the body -- the rest stays in the gut and is metabolised by the ‘good’ bacteria there.”

FOS sugars aren’t particularly sweet to taste, and Revell’s main task was to see what happened when yacon syrup was combined with blackcurrant juice under different storage conditions.

Hard work becomes worth it - “It was a lot of work,” she says. “My findings are commercially sensitive, but we can say that blackcurrant juice and yacon syrup together provide a health benefit that they don’t separately.”

Her research earned her first-class honours for her Masters, and has led to a whole new product for New Zealand Yacon.

The company’s director Dr Robert Welch says they’re now working on packaging and marketing serving-sized portions of the new health drink, and will initially target the Korean and Japanese markets where yacon is very popular.

“Yacon is one product where if you have a gut problem you feel a benefit,” he says.

Maria’s work has been hugely helpful in identifying the best mixes and how to store them so they retain maximum biological activity.

Dr Welch says New Zealand Yacon has worked closely with University of Waikato scientists and students for some years now.

Prebiotic or probiotic?  A prebiotic nourishes the “good” bacteria – or probiotics -- in your gut that can help protect against infections caused by “bad” bacteria such as salmonella and e.coli.

 Reference: Full Article @ University of Waikato - Why chemistry is good for your health. 27/09/2012