A Protein Approach to Solvent-free Extraction

In the past decade, global warming coupled with financially challenged global economies has presented an arduous challenge for the personal care industry. Formulators worldwide were tasked with creating more eco-friendly and natural personal care products at affordable price points. Natural products have been made; however, consumers have found them to be sometimes less efficacious then their synthetic counterparts—and often more expensive.

Nearly a year and a half ago, Ilya Raskin, PhD, a professor II in the department of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, stumbled upon a possible solution to creating an efficacious, cost-effective natural product using plant proteins commonly found in food when he isolated the beneficial compounds in blueberry juice while leaving out ancillary materials. As Raskin hypothesized, his method separated the antioxidants from the water and sugar in the blueberries, and he soon approached Bertold Fridlender, a visiting professor at Rutgers, and individualsa from North Carolina State University and Rutgers, to form Nutrasorb LLC, a functional foods and ingredients company supported partially by Rutgersb. Although the company’s initial focus was in functional foods, it has begun its foray into personal care.

Good In, Bad Out

The protein extraction idea was conceived while searching for an alternative to current extraction methods. “We were concentrating bioactives using extraction processes that involved solvents and other chemical practices. We wanted to improve on this process and develop a natural alternative to extraction with harsh solvents,” Raskin explained. He discovered that common [proprietary] food proteins could replace solvents to separate the beneficial compounds.

To produce the concentrates, Raskin applied what he calls a “kitchen sink” approach, which involves taking the proteins (matrix), mixing them with the juice obtained from the plant, incubating the two under the right temperature and pH level for 5 to 10 minutes, and spinning down or filtering out the matrix and bioactive concentrate, which are not soluble. According to Raskin, this method produces two high-value products from two low-value products. The first product is the enriched matrix, but the other is a sugary water that is then concentrated by the company to be used as a natural sweetener. Through the conditions described, the protein is said to bind to the material’s beneficial compounds. “The conditions convert the matrix into a powerful magnet that selectively binds and attracts the good plants materials (terpenoids, polyphenols, etc.),” added Raskin. who finds this process to be simple but effective.

Although he started with blueberries, the process has been extended to a variety of materials. “You can do the same thing with plants such as aloe and chamomile. As long as the compounds are mildly soluble in water, this process can be applied. We just juice it or squeeze it and then react it with the matrix and separate the enriched matrix,” added Raskin.

Food, Cosmetics and More

“The platform brings in all the goodness to the food industry and none of the undesirables such as the sugars, fats, etc.,” added Fridlender. This is particularly true for diabetics, noted Raskin. “A lot of compounds in blueberries [polyphenols] and other fruits are antidiabetic; however, it is difficult to get the benefits of these compounds by eating blueberries because of the sugar content.”

The company, therefore, can offer food that contains the beneficial bioactives from three or four servings of blueberries in one serving of food naturally and without sugar. One example, according to Raskin, is cranberry, which he added has known benefits for a female’s urinary tract. “In 1g of the matrix, the bioactive polyphenols can be squeezed from three to five glasses of cranberry juice without sugar, calories, bulk water, etc.”

According to Fridlender, however, there are many other applications for this technology. Therefore, the team began investigating its applications in nutraceuticals and cosmetics, particularly in natural personal care. “We have witnessed the trend for natural cosmetics, and we can provide high concentrations of bioactives that are natural, and efficacy can be demonstrated,” added Fridlender.

Cosmosorb, the platform’s application to cosmetics, has been utilized to create a number of actives such as ginger, onion, rhubarb, blueberry and cinnamon, among others. “We concentrate mid-polarity range compounds, and this is where most of the bioactives reside. Structurally cells and plants are made of hydrophobic compounds (fats) and hydrophilic compounds (sugars). Most of the bioactive compounds are designed in mid-polarity range to be mildly soluble.

Raskin noted that similar to their standard extraction counterparts these actives provide a number of skin benefits such as improving wrinkles, preventing microbes, lightening skin and evening skin tone; however, they reportedly do so with additional benefits.

Solvent-free Benefits

“Testing utilizing blueberries and cranberries discovered that the matrix produced concentrates that were more efficacious, stable and bioavailable [than standard extractions],” explained Raskin. The actives were found to be more efficacious due to their presence in concentrated form. Raskin added that the electrostatic binding to the matrix allows the bioactive compounds additional stability by shielding and protecting the them with the surrounding proteins. “This platform works similar to the liposome technology. It protects compounds and allows them to dissociate slowly from the matrix. We can see it in the human digestive system, where the compounds are protected from being degraded saliva, and they are slowly being released when the matrix travels down the digestive system. It is a similar process to encapsulation,” explained Raskin. The company has conducted stability testing that showed the matrix-enriched bioactives to be more light stable, temperature stable and chemically stable.

Raskin has found the concentrates to be more bioavailable to the body. “The enriched matrix compounds are more bioavailable than pure compounds, particularly in the human digestive system, where the matrix protects them from digestive enzymes, shields them and releases them in the right compartment,” he explained.

In addition to the stability, bioavailability and efficacy functions, the concentrates are said to offer formulators a cost-effective way to deliver skin benefits.

“This platform is more affordable for the manufacturer because it is more bioactive and bioavailable per gram,” noted Raskin, who added that the platform also does not utilize solvents. “Solvents are expensive, and this process does not need them.”

The company currently is working with partners in the cosmetic industry to investigate the benefits of these ingredients in formulations. Raskin noted that the insolubility and opacity of the matrix does not allow for the production of clear liquids such as shampoos.

The company is looking forward to producing more concentrates. “The applications are endless. We want to generate more examples of these ingredients,” added Fridlender.

More in Natural/Sustainable