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Researcher fortifies flour with fruit and amaranth

Violet Mugalavai
Prof Violet Mugalavai. PHOTO | STANLEY KIMUGE | NMG 

For several years, Prof Violet Mugalavai, a food scientist, struggled to find the nutrition-rich flour in the shelves in the market.

Disappointed, in 2014 she set herself on tough path to come up with her own food-to-food fortified flour that took her three years of research to get the right ingredients.

Prof Mugalavai, a food and nutrition scientist at University of Eldoret found the right formula by coming up with the nutrition-rich flour, a project also aimed at lowering malnutrition.

“The problem is that most of the flour in the market is fortified with the chemicals which unlike this one which make from natural ingredients such as fruits and vegetables. This means that they are healthier compared to most of those in the market,” explains the researcher.

The partially cooked flour is ich in nutrients such as orange flesh sweet potatoes and amaranth seeds.

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The flour is made at the university’s food processing laboratory. It has also approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), having met the set standards as fit for the human consumption.

The food expert notes that from the partially cooked flour, one can make instant porridge or ugali which takes less than 30 seconds or a minute respectively.

"First we mill the maize or sorghum grains then we mix with various dried and milled fortificants such as vegetables and fruits. Then we use an electric food dehydrator to partially cook them,” says Prof Mugalavai.

The electric food dehydrator at the university’s food processing lab is one of the reliable ways of drying compared to freezing since it is done once.

“The electric dryer has a coil as the heat source and thermostat that controls the temperatures at 50oC. There is also a fan to give the cooling effect inside the dryer,” she observed, noting that one can plant vegetables and dry them and then use them for the next three months.

This is one of the innovations showcased during the recent eight edition of the University of Eldoret agri-business trade fair.

“One uses a table spoon of flour that makes one mug and then add hot water (1000C) before stirring for 30 seconds till it thick enough. The porridge is then ready to be served,” says Prof Mugalavai.

A 500-gramme of the packet is retailing for Sh200 and in a single day, they make over 50 kilogramme of flour due to the small size of the processing plant. That means that they produce 100 packets that would retail for a total of Sh20,000. She hopes to partner with big players to expand their market.

“We are looking at working with established millers in the market to work together so that we upscale the products,” says Prof Mugalavai.

She says the demand for the flour has gone up. Some of their clients include, hospitals and hotels in Eldoret town.

The researcher notes that some of their target clients include the disciplined forces and semi-arid and arid counties.

Prof Mugalavai added that this was part a project to lower the post-harvest losses in the agricultural sector that accounts for 20 to 40 per cent. Other types of flour such as sorghum, gram, green banana and cow pea but are undergoing testing before approval by Kebs.

Kenya is one of the countries reeling with many cases of malnutrition. For instance, data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2018 indicated that at least 29.9 per cent of children aged below five across the country have moderately stunted growth with another 13 per cent underweight because they do not get sufficient nutrients for optimal physical and mental development.

According to the report, most of the cases are due to lack of food largely blamed on poverty, a phenomenon that could deprive the country of its intellectual capital in the future if not addressed through the right nutrition.

Prof Mugalavai believes that she has killed two birds with one stone by assisting in lowering the malnutrition cases besides as an enterprise.

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