A technological breakthrough that dramatically increases the absorption of ginseng could transform it from a costly and unpleasant-tasting formulation headache into a cost-effective and highly efficacious functional food and beverage ingredient, according to Korean firm Ilhwa Co.
Ginseng is best known in the food and beverage space as a stress-buster or energizing ingredient for mental clarity, although supplement makers are increasingly exploring its potential in blood glucose management, immunity and cardiovascular health, said David Konn, md of Ilhwa's new North American subsidiary.
However, absorption issues and its earthy taste meant beverage formulators often steered clear of it altogether, masked its taste with lots of sweeteners and flavors, or engaged in ‘ginseng sprinkling’ – using tiny un-efficacious doses in order to include it on a product label – said Konn.
A fraction of the standard dose
Ilhwa, which launched its GinST 15 concentrated ginseng extract at the Engredea show in Anaheim last month, claims to have overcome these challenges with a patented production process in which enzymes are added to its ginseng extract that effectively ‘pre-digest’ it and transform it into an ultra-bioavailable form.
This means formulators can deliver superior efficacy using a fraction of the standard dose – making ginseng significantly more appealing as an ingredient - said Konn.
“Instead of using 500mg, you can use 50mg or less that delivers higher efficacy, consistent absorption, an improved taste profile, and a lower cost per use. It is 15 times better absorbed – and absorbed four times faster.
“We had great feedback at Engredea and NutraCon from firms in supplements and foods and beverage formulation. So we’re talking to companies in everything from functional beverages and energy bars to chocolate.”
Why is absorption an issue with ginseng?
Ginseng is hydrolyzed by bacteria in the large intestine so its metabolites can be absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. However, many people do not fully absorb it owing to variations in the hydrolyzing ability of intestinal bacteria, claimed Konn.
Ilhwa, which secured patents for creating ginseng extract metabolites via human bacteria in the late 1990s, patented a new process in 2009 and 2010 that uses a combination of two enzymes to do the same job.
The whole root
While most cultivated ginseng is typically harvested after six years, Ilhwa harvests its roots after four to five years when they contain an optimal balance of bioactive components called ginsenosides, said Konn.
It then dries the whole root in the sun and puts it through a proprietary low heat vacuum extraction process.
The resulting concentrated white ginseng extract then undergoes a fermentation process using enzymes to convert it into a form (GinST 15) that can be rapidly absorbed in the body, he said.
By contrast, most rivals peel the root and then process it into red ginseng using a steaming process which is faster, but can destroy other beneficial components in the root such as vitamins, Germanium and amino acids, he claimed.
“Ilhwa retains most of the amino acids, vitamins and which are lost in other types of preparations. Ilhwa Korean Ginseng also has 36 types of ginsenosides compared with American Ginseng, which has 13; Sanchi, which has 14; and Chikuseteu, which has three.”