Inventor and company co-founder Kavita Shukla believes that, by keeping food fresher for longer in a sustainable way, Fenugreen has the potential to dramatically lower the price of farm-grown produce while having a positive impact on the environment.
A herbal remedy
The original idea was sparked fortuitously, when Kavita was visiting her grandmother in India and accidentally drank some unfiltered water: ‘To make sure I didn’t fall ill, she gave me fenugreek, a home remedy for stomach ailments.’ The experience piqued Kavita’s curiosity and spurred her to conduct experiments on the herb when she returned to the US, where she realised that fenugreek was an effective inhibitor of bacterial and fungal growth. So effective that she continued her research over a number of years to develop a food packaging application for it: Fenugreen.
Fresh food, longer life
Kavita is a born inventor. She filed her first patent at the age of 15 and had been creating little inventions for day-to-day chores since the age of five! ‘I’ve always wanted to invent things that could solve everyday problems and have an impact on society.’ Fenugreen is a simple invention that she believes will do just that, by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
It can be used to coat existing food packaging or to create packaging inserts, and its flexibility and low cost makes it a particularly viable solution for organic and local farmers. ‘Organic fruits and vegetables can’t be treated with mainstream preservatives,’ Kavita explains. ‘Scientific tests have shown that Fenugreen can increase shelf life by up to two to four times. Fresher and cheaper organic produce could change the way we eat!’
It is this potential societal impact that has inspired Kavita to become an entrepreneur. ‘Even the best invention is useless if it just sits on a lab bench,’ she says. ‘The only way for an invention to have real impact is to bring it to market. By licensing the Fenugreen technology through my own company I can achieve that, while also adhering to my vision and values.’
Changing and saving lives
Kavita is constantly exploring broader applications for Fenugreen. The technology could be adapted to serve developing countries, where mortality related to food spoilage is a harsh reality. According to estimates established by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, a massive 25% of world food supply is lost due to microorganisms every year. In places with little or no refrigeration, low-cost food preservation could save lives. ‘Since Fenugreen doesn’t require extensive production infrastructure, we can make it in any environment at a very low cost.’ Kavita explains.
Fenugreen may prove to have some unexpected environmental benefits as well. ‘Some time ago in the lab I accidentally spilled some Fenugreen solution on some other oil-based experiments and noticed that it was exceptional in binding oil in solution,’ Kavita recalls. ‘I remembered this when I read about the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico and thought: “what if it could be an environmentally friendly way of cleaning up the spill?”’ After the positive results of preliminary experiments, Kavita filed a patent for this application and the company is planning to conduct larger-scale testing.