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Passion for food

Shawn Cumberbatch

Passion for food

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The next time you are eating a slice of cassava pone, consider the science that goes into its transformation from root crop to tasty treat.
Or better yet, just ask Barbadian food scientist Nadine Benn-Greaves about the chemistry, physics, microbiology and other processes that you might never have imagined are involved.
This small business woman, who heads Vedge-Out Food Products, is one of a growing cadre of young Barbadians who are pursuing educational qualifications not to be employed by companies, but to start their own enterprises.
Benn-Greaves, who has a Masters in Food Science and Technology from the International Food Science and Technology Institute in the United States and is also qualified in Chemical Engineering, said she started Vedge-Out in January last year “in response to the need for the availability of affordable, healthy food alternatives that are convenient to use and attain but tasty and fresh”.
“As a result, we also sought to encompass local produce that was and is commonly traded in Bridgetown as a UNESCO world heritage site, in our products. We offer a line of better for you white flour and gluten free, whole grain, baking mixes comprising of muffins, cookies and cassava pone,” she said.
Noting that “business has been going good so far” and she anticipated it “will start to grow slowly for the next year”, she said although the company was started during a recession “the economic status was taken into consideration, so for us it has not been difficult”.
Vedge-Out employs four people and has a strategic alliance with another small business, Coral Isle Foods, which facilitates the processing and packaging of the line of Ligon’s products at Newton, Christ Church.
Benn-Greaves said her food science qualifications were “definitely” a big help in her business, including being aware of the effects of gluten and other substances, in addition to being able to satisfy the demand for healthier foods.
“A lot of people were saying ‘we want something healthy, but it is so expensive’ and I thought that it would be a good idea to have something that is healthy, and gluten free is becoming very popular as well and it is also synonymous with better health. So I basically said ‘let me have something that people will like’ and of course people like deserts and snacks, and I wanted something Bajan as well so I included the cassava pone and went with what is familiar to everyone – the cookies and the muffins,” she said.
The business woman also explained that Richard Ligon, an Englishman she said “brought a lot of the produce that we have here in Barbados” in the 1600s and showed new ways to use items like cassava, was the name used in her product line.
“The centurions always talk about ‘we lived long because we had a lot of cassava, and we had a lot of yams and we had a lot of sweet potatoes’, so those are the things that I want to engender in the product to bring long life and health, even in terms of the muffins and the cookies which are actually made with cassava flour,” she said.
“They are also made from pea flour as well which makes them healthier because they have iron and folic acid. Of course the peas are also good for lowering cholesterol so it engenders a lot when it comes to health in terms of the products.”
Benn-Greaves said beyond simply making a food product for people to buy and consume, it was important to understand the science of it.
“Of course it’s my passion because we all have to eat so I pretty much love anything to do with food. I think safety and quality is priority first and then everything else is secondary,” she added.