Inulin answers agave surfeit problem

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Inulin Mexico Dietary fiber

Mexico's Nekulti has found a way to put the country's excess agave
plants to good use, and supply the food industry with a novel
source of fiber.

Agave has been grown in Mexico for thousands of years, and the famous Mexican spirit tequila is distilled from the sap in their hearts. But so prolific are they that the tequila industry has more than it can handle. At present, there is an excess of 60 million plants - each one weighing in at 80 kg - and other industries have been encouraged to find a use for them. Nekulti's research and development manager Jose Manuel Cruz Rubio told at the Anuga expo in Cologne last week that 25 percent of agave's wet weight is inulin. The only plant with a higher proportion is the onion. Nekulti, formed by farmers and Native American organizations that pledge to adhere to fair trade and organic standards, has developed a way to tap this source through a gentle enzymatic process. Its processing facility is expected to be operational from February, with the capacity to process 800 tons of raw agave a month - yielding 150 tons of pure, dried inulin. Within 18 months to two years, capacity may increase to yield as much as 5000 tons per year. Cruz added that inulin from agave is cheaper to produce than that derived from chicory, and the price is therefore expected to be competitive with the likes of Orafti. However since Nekulti's inulin is organic and Orafti's is not, Cruz does not see the two companies as being in direct competition. Moreover, he said that inulin from agave has the added benefit of being very soluble in cold water, meaning it can be incorporated into beverages, bakery products, dairy products like cheese and yogurts and used as a fat replacer. There is solid evidence for its efficacy as a prebiotic to promote gut health, and in products for diabetics, inulin and fructose are useful sugar substitutes. Even though agave inulin has not yet hit the market, the interest of major food producers has already been piqued, with players such as Kellogg and Novartis expressing an interest, said Cruz. As to its efficacy, a phase I clinical study on rats produced positive results, and a 12-month government-funded human trial is underway at the University of Guadalajara, directly comparing its efficacy with chicory-derived inulin. Nekulit plans to supply its inulin on a worldwide basis, but initially at least the focus will be on Europe and Japan, where there is already a greater awareness of the benefits of fiber. "In the US, people are not so aware," said Cruz. "We are trying to educate consumers about the benefits of eating fiber." External links to companies or organisations mentioned in thisstory: Nekulti

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