Suntava non-GMO purple corn packs nutritional punch
By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: February 26, 2015
Category: Non-GMO Company Profiles
Suntava developing many applications for antioxidant-rich purple corn
By the CEO’s own admission, five years ago you wouldn’t have even heard of this superfood of the plant kingdom that his company, Suntava®, has been built around. Dense with nutrients, Suntava Purple Corn, is the result of years of cross-breeding across hemispheres, the latest strain of an ancient maize that originated in Peru thousands of years ago.
It packs a potent purple punch: loaded with antioxidants called anthocyanins, Suntava Purple Corn has twice the antioxidant load of blueberries, and the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of all blue, yellow and white corn varieties. The nutritive value lies in the pigment responsible for the rich purple color of the corn, and is finding its way into natural dyes, corn chips, milled grain products, snacks, purees, freeze dried products, supplements…the possibilities seem endless.
“I never knew where the remarkable properties of purple corn could take us…the interest we’re getting from manufacturers eager to launch nutritious, non-GMO products is amazing,” said CEO Bill Petrich.
Many potential applications
Since the Minnesota-based company launched in the spring of 2007, growth has been akin to kernels of popping corn. A warm-up period, then bursts of energy here, there, and all at once, in many directions.
“The challenge now is managing the growth, deciding which opportunities provide the right direction to move in,” Petrich said.
He knew he was on to something when he learned from the breeders of the natural pigment and antioxidants present in the purple corn. Petrich, whose years with the Schwan Food Company included work in the technical group as well buying businesses and starting new ventures, saw a compelling opportunity. The idea of a natural dye was intriguing, in light of the landmark Southampton Study coming out of the UK in 2007, linking artificial colors (synthetic dyes such as Red 40) to hyperactivity.
The first ingredient the company debuted was a natural red dye—extracted from the purple corn using a water-only process. But the entire plant, from stalk to cob to kernels, contains valuable free radical-fighting anthocyanins as well as oils, proteins and fiber. Manufacturers from many different industries are calling Suntava to explore the potential applications.
“After the dye, we started looking at the grain markets to make use of the kernels,” Petrich said. “What if we mill it for corn meal, flour, then grits, and snack meal? One company wanted to make a beer out of the purple corn. Another wanted to grind it, and another wanted a nectar (extract) for snack bars. We’ll soon be moving into the supplement market. Now we’re up to nearly ten ingredients we supply.”
Suntava collaborates with other companies for each application of the original product. “We provide Suntava Purple Corn and marketing support—and help manufacturers get started by directing them to makers of the ingredients they need, whether it’s nectar or milled meal,” Petrich said.
Non-GMO Project verified
The traditional purple corn has always been non-GMO, but manufacturers wanted to make sure. When they asked if Suntava Purple Corn was Non-GMO Project verified, the company decided to go for it. The kernels received verification in 2013, and the milled products are in process.
“We have about six to twelve growers of our purple corn in the Midwest, and the number is rising,” Petrich said. “We’re working with growers in Canada, California, and Pennsylvania to test how the corn does in different regions. As far as protection from GMO contamination, it’s an ongoing battle, we are always checking.”
“The process of getting verified was challenging but worth it,” Petrich said. “Our timing has been fortunate, because companies are on the hunt for nutritious, innovative ingredients, like chia, for example. Our purple corn draws them in because it’s beautiful to look at; its nutritional profile is impressive; and it’s easy to incorporate into other products.”
Recent scientific research on anthocyanins points to anti-inflammatory properties; a heart disease, obesity and diabetes preventive, and an anti-cancer agent. Suntava Purple Corn contains three powerful anthocyanin antioxidants: Cyanidin-3-Glucoside (C3G), Pelargonidin, and Peonidin, each with its own potential health benefits.
On the retail level, Suntava Purple Corn can be found in Mystic Harvest corn chips, Rhythm Superfoods, and General Mills (Cascadian Farm), and Berry Vanilla Puffs, and Udi’s bread, to name a few.
© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, March 2015
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