Mysore: Scientists working with Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) are gearing up for the technology demonstration and induction phase trials of MRE (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) food products made out of seaweeds for the Indian Navy. The sea trials scheduled as part of the 12th Five Year Plan, will be the result of path-breaking research done by the lab on seaweeds, hitherto an unexplored field in military application. Dr H V Batra, Director, DFRL, told Express during a visit to the facilities that nutraceutical products made out of marine sources, including seaweeds, can address issues like depression, fatigue, sea-sickness and muscular stiffness often found among submariners and sailors undertaking long missions.
The nutrient and toxicological properties of seaweeds were studied with the research on performance-enhancement MREs starting in 2010. “Our task was to mitigate certain stress-related issues and we took the sea route to explore the vast coastline of India. Our main emphasis will be to extract active compounds from marine sources and we are planning to attach an advanced team to an oceanographic unit for logistical reasons. We have to provide MREs with longer shelf-life under limited cold storage environment. The naval ration supply is a challenge for us,” Dr Batra said. Initial phase of trials were held at naval bases in Kochi, Vizag and Mumbai. It is for the first time in India that food products from seaweed extracts with nutraceutical characters are being developed. DFRL plans to initially supply toffees and energy bars made out of seaweeds for Indian Navy.
With a number of mission-specific platforms being inducted by the Indian Navy, the DFRL scientists are living up to the challenge of developing fresh, semi-processed and fully-processed food products. “The food products need to be customized for various platforms such as a huge a ship or a submarine. A submariner undergoes psychological and physiological stress levels mainly due to less physical activities and limited space availability. We have to make task-specific MREs for diverse naval needs. For marine commandoes (MARCOS) the weight of MREs has to be as less as possible and we are working on it,” Dr P S Raju, Associate Director of the lab, said.
The lab is now working on reusable self-heating system for the navy and with degradable food packing systems in compliance with the international packing and food waste disposal (MARPOL) norms. “We are also working on anti-sea sickness food based on fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. The Navy has asked us to prevent hygroscopic nature (tendency to absorb moisture) of sugar and other dry ration items by using stack encapsulation technique (providing suitable packaging support) for naval base depots,” Dr S Nadanasabapathy, senior scientist, said.
When asked whether similar research was done elsewhere, DFRL scientists said that wounded Japanese soldiers were given seaweed juice when they ran out of blood, while the British soldiers consumed seaweed limes to address degenerative disorders. “We are confident that our MRE packaged product from seaweeds will be first in the world for military application,” Dr S Nadanasabapathy said.
Pre-flight meals: With the induction of INS Vikramaditya and increased flying activities at sea, the Navy has asked DFRL to deliver pre-flight meals for the pilots. “The idea is to reduce thirst of pilots, in turn cutting down the urine formation. The pilots should feel very light on their stomach, yet have a sustained energy release. Research on isotonic beverages which will reduce the loss of body fluids thereby maintaining electrolyte balance is also underway,” Dr Anila Kumar K R, senior scientist, said.
(Copyright@The New Indian Express)