Disclosure: AFN’s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Brightseed.
Olam Food Ingredients (OFI), a division of Singapore-based agribusiness and commodities giant Olam, has partnered with US foodtech startup Brightseed to explore potential new health applications of produce including black pepper and garlic.
OFI was spun out as a separate entity under the Olam holding company in 2020 to run the group’s food ingredients and production businesses. It is one of the world’s leading producers and suppliers of cocoa, coffee, dairy, nuts, and spices.
“Spices are largely valued for flavor but should also be explored for health applications,” Greg Estep, CEO of OFI’s spices business, said in a statement.
“[Brightseed’s] data insights will help us unlock the health potential and differentiation in our spice supply and fuel future innovation.”
The collaboration will see the San Francisco-based startup use its AI-powered Forager platform to seek out and identify novel compounds within OFI’s black pepper and garlic crop.
These compounds are ‘phytonutrients’ that plants have evolved to boost their own growth and resilience, and to protect themselves against disease, predation, and other external dangers.
The expectation is that many of these molecules can also offer potential benefits for human health and wellness that, at present, are largely untapped.
Black pepper, for example, produces piperine: an antioxidant that may inhibit tumor growth and enhance the bioavailability of certain drugs. However, these potential applications are, as yet, poorly understood.
That’s where Forager steps in.
Brightseed claims that its platform is able to “pinpoint the specific mechanisms of plant bioactives that likely correlate to a direct health benefit.”
It does this by means of AI and a ‘map’ of phytonutrients present in plants across the world that it has compiled. Once candidate molecules are identified, the Brightseed team undertakes its own scientific investigations before clinical evaluation, regulatory review, and commercial development can take place.
Brightseed says that “all of Forager’s discoveries undergo in vitro validation and enable a de-risked clinical trial process for innovation.”
The startup has partnered with several other corporates on phytonutrient discovery. The initial phase of one such collaboration, with Danone, discovered 10 times as many compounds with potential health applications in the soybean plant than were previously known. More recently, Brightseed teamed up with farmer cooperative and juice brand Ocean Spray to explore the phytonutrient composition of cranberries.
Brightseed co-founder and chief operating officer Sofia Elizondo said the startup is “thrilled” about its partnership with OFI which furthers its mission “to drive consumer health conversations back to nature.”
“OFI has a strong black pepper footprint, which provides Forager with access to a range of cultivars with a view to developing a robust comparative model of bioactive potency and density,” she added.