Two years ago, a group of friends were enjoying a glass of wine in the Mosel region in south-west Germany when their conversation turned to the health benefits which studies attribute to the drink. During the fermentation process of making wine, by-products are left over which are often just discarded as waste and the friends reasoned that since these by-products contain the goodness of wine in an even more concentrated form, and without the alcohol, shouldn’t it be more often used and consumed by humans?
One of the friends was Bernd Diehl, the 48-year-old co-owner of a German chemical analysis company called Spectral Service. He proposed his company develop a method to turn the by-products into a powder preserving as many of the natural, healthy properties of wine as possible - the proteins, B vitamins, minerals and polyphenols, which are thought to prevent heart or circulation diseases, inflammation and thrombosis.
As a relatively small company, Spectral decided to partner with the larger Technologie-Transfer-Zentrum (TTZ), German specialists in product development, and the pair successfully applied to carry out their research as a EUREKA project. As well as developing wine powder, the partners also wanted to test their powders in different kinds of products – in both food and drink, as well as in make-up. Here Spanish natural cosmetics company Alfaverde Productos Naturales was keen to help.
“We didn’t just want to extract the nutrients from red wine and press them into pills,” says ProVino’s project leader Gabriele Randel. “We worked from the principle that if omega-3-fatty acids are good for you, it’s better to eat fish than to swallow a -supplement. By adding red wine powder to products we also wanted to keep some of the taste and colour of red wine.”
So the partners’ two-year research programme began. Diehl and Randel drove up and down Germany, collecting wine material from vineyards in the Mosel, the Rheinland-Pfalz , the Ahr and many more. They delivered the material to TTZ whose team carried out drying experiments, producing different powders, which were sent to Spectral for chemical analysis.
Other companies had previously produced red wine powders from by-products, but the Pro Vino partners felt earlier drying methods lost a lot of the natural nutrients or required adding preservatives and artificial substrates to create a stable powder. “We developed a gentle drying process which did not use much heat in order to not destroy ingredients,” says Randel.
Once the researchers hit on powders which contained high amounts of nutrients, including a high dose of protein and polyphenols, they set out to find the tastiest combinations in food and the best uses in cosmetics. Not all the products were successful. But the experiments showed the powders’ strengths and limitations. “In some products the powder is too acidic and it wasn’t nice,” she says. “In others, the fruity taste of the grapes in combination with the acidic effect is refreshing.”
Randel’s personal favourites were yoghurt drinks and other dairy products, like ice-cream, and pastries, cakes and chocolates. Skin creams using the powder were more effective than red to violet eye-shadow and some wine properties could be good for the skin, including having anti-wrinkle effects. However consumers would have to get used to the idea of applying a cream which is initially violet although does not stay red when absorbed into the skin, says Randel. A face mask using the powder was successful because the tartaric acid in the grapes formed crystals if preserved at a high level. “It had a softening and cleansing effect,” she says.
Creating the combinations is not a simple matter because, as the partners found, different wine varieties produced very different tasting powders and different powder concentrations were suitable for different products. Nevertheless, the successful products they developed and tested have convinced the team that the ProVino product could be attractive to health-conscious consumers. They also offer a good use for red wine by-products, the disposal of which is now subject to tighter European regulation and which cannot just be dumped on land. Every year in Germany alone, there are about 120,000 hectolitres of wine by-products, enough to produce 12,000 tonnes of dried red wine powder.
ProVino’s partners are now talking to companies interested in the powder for specific products. If enough firms want a powder to be produced for a product, Spectral may even consider creating a new company just to manufacture the powder. Another alternative for the commercialisation of the powder is that a manufacturer buys the ProVino method.
One of the ProVino products has already been tested on consumers on a small scale, thanks to EUREKA, which encouraged the partners to market their results at the Innovation Days exhibition held in June in Lisbon. PROVINO set up a stand and gave out a yoghurt drink containing the red-wine powder. “That was really invaluable because we were forced to talk about the product, not just to companies, but also to ordinary people. We were forced to ask do they like the product?” says Randel.
The response of those who tasted the yoghurt drink was positive, even from those who were initially reluctant to try it, she says. “Some Spanish and Italian guys told us they liked red wine but that it seemed weird to have it in a powder. When they tried it we convinced them.”
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