A Complex Meal Easy To Consume

Image: Flickr, Adam Kuban
Image: Flickr, Adam Kuban

JUST more than three years ago, a Johannesburg-based NGO called Community AIDS Response (CARE) approached industrial chemist Basil Kransdorff with a problem.

The organisation, which distributed food parcels to the poor and HIV-positive, had a grant from the Elton John Foundation to bring some science to their work and asked Kransdorff to develop a fortified food that could address many of the specific nutrient deficiencies found in local diets, based on accepted understandings of what the body needs for basic good health

‘We saw the need to create what you call a “silver bullet”,’ Kransdorff said. ‘We had to try to put in as much as we could into the e’pap.’

The result was e’pap, a fortified food that can be mixed with water or milk and eaten as a porridge or taken as a drink. Today, Econocom Foods distributes 2.5 million food packets a month – in strawberry, vanilla and banana flavours – in 12 different African countries, despite almost no marketing. News of the supplement and its benefit for HIV-positive people simply spread rapidly by word of mouth.

Despite its name, e’pap is far more than fortified maize meal, the staple food in much of Southern Africa, and developing it was no easy task. Kransdorff and CARE wanted the food to be affordable, nutritious and easy to prepare.

But special technology was required to prevent potential interactions between ingredients, oxidisation and the destruction of nutrients in the cooking process. For example, Kransdorff had to figure out how to counteract the effects of phytate, an enzyme found in maize that inhibits the body’s absorption of iron, another essential nutrient in e’pap.

‘The product is a food, it’s not a medicine,’ Kransdorff said. ‘But sometimes, the best medicine in the world is good food.’