Published: 31st March 2021
Zaara Biotechnology is bringing delicious snacks made with Spirulina to your table
A Biotechnology student from Thrissur aims to offer answers to India's food and energy crisis through his start-up. Here's how the research has led them to develop a range of products
A Biotechnology student from Sahrdaya College of Engineering and Technology in Thrissur has embarked on a unique mission to solve India's food crisis. In 2016, Najeeb Haneef set up Zaara Biotechnology, a start-up that focuses on researching the food and energy shortage in the country and finding answers to this using microalgae. In collaboration with the Indian Council of Agriculture and Research's Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (ICAR CIFT), they have begun manufacturing India’s first algal-seaweed food product and other FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) products.
"We believe that all problems encountered by society have solutions that can be found through timely interventions," says Najeeb, "Our intention is to set up a sustainable food habit through a low-consumption, high-productivity line using superfoods like microalgae and seaweed. Our motto has been ‘Feeding the nation forward’ and in line with this, we have brought 100% sustainable FMCG products to customers using the latest biotechnology innovations from our R&D labs. We believe that we can empower the nation through a healthy lifestyle. And, at Zaara, we work towards ensuring that these solutions are made available economically.
FLAVOUR RIDE: The cookies come in a range of flavours
Najeeb and his team set up the project in 2016 along with their academic semester project. Initially, they designed prototypes of microalgae-enabled photobioreactors (PBR) for trapping carbon. But they were unable to expand further due to a financial crunch. But the team went on to analyse the potential power of microalgae in the FMCG industry, particularly in food. After learning more about it, they redesigned the project in the form of cookies that are made using these ingredients. All of their research is carried out under the watchful eyes of ICAR CIFT.
In 2019, upon successfully completing their research, the product was officially launched on e-commerce platforms like Amazon. To generate the initial amount for their R&D, they sold mushrooms they had cultivated on campus to students and the faculty. Najeeb says, "There has been a rise in the people's dependency on healthy foods with more people preferring organic options. However, there are still many of us who depend on cheap, unhealthy food. This is often due to two major reasons: poverty and the lack of time."
ON FIRE: Najeeb and his team participated in Gulf Food 2020
He continues, "The lack of healthy food results in malnutrition and as food has a direct link with the body's immunity, this can result in a variety of diseases and disorders. India is a growing economy and a sizable population of its youth is employed in the fast-paced, competitive techno-corporate sector. The ever-demanding workload in these sectors often results in the youth neglecting their health and nutrition. It is important that a balance be struck between work and health."
And in pursuit of this delicate balance, they discovered that Spirulina, a variety of blue-green algae, is one of the most preferred superfoods available in the market. Rich in vital nutrients such as proteins, Vitamin A, iron and iodine, it holds the potential to answer the general population's nutrition-related needs. In addition to this, there are no age restrictions or health restrictions that could prevent a person from consuming it.
BREATHE NOW: They are also working on AI-enabled ventilaotr designs
Najeeb adds, "We hope to bring healthy and nutritious food to everyone. We believe that our work will help in improving food quality and developing people's interest in superfoods. We also hope that we can inspire other great startups with such revolutionary ideas. So far, we have been able to bring about awareness for superfoods among some sections of society. And thanks to the support and reviews that we've received from customers and well-wishers, this has helped us refine developmental plans for our future products."
Zaara has designed and manufactured algae-based cookies and cakes in a variety of flavours, seaweed-based cookies and photobioreactors. He says, "Our primary aim has been to provide nutritious yet tasty, ready-to-eat food in a form fit for consumption for all ages. Healthy food is often associated with poor taste. We want to change this misconception and show people that healthy food can also be tasty. We also offer these products in ready-to-eat forms so that it can catch up with the pace of the busy Indian youth!"