An ad campaign by a mobile phone company, ‘An Idea can Change your Life’ – has more truth to it than we can ever imagine. Just a simple idea or thought could spark off a change or bring in something new. Girls gossiping and catching up over coffee isn’t all that bad, as you never know what a brilliant idea may emerge out of such conversations!
This is what happened with two 29-year-old classmates Asha Ramesh Pillai and Sweetha Cherian, both MBA graduates, who just had babies and were discussing one day about the best and safest food to give them. This bit of mundane conversation sparked off an idea and Roots2Shoots Organics was formed in October 2010.
How did it all begin?
“Sweetha and I were always interested in organic foods, especially because we both had babies and wanted to give them the best. That’s how we started searching for organic foods in Mumbai. We found out that most organic foods were imported and expensive. Though India produces organic food like spices, coffee, cocoa, sugar, jaggery, pulses and coconut oil, almost 90% of it is exported. That means our babies do not have the privilege to get home grown organic food at decent prices. This thought prompted us to look out for organic food elsewhere and we came across an organic farm in Wayanad district of Kerala, which produces certified organic foods,” says Asha.
The basic foundation of Roots2Shoots Organics
“We believe that everything green (the literal meaning for organic) is good for you and your kids. Wherever possible, we should stick to green products, which can make a lot of difference in our health in the long run,” adds Asha.
Roots2Shoots is an organic health food venture that offers organic health products for different age groups. As of now, they are particularly targeting the old age and children group, as they require healthy food the most, the former because of various diseases that set in due to age and latter because of their growth requirement.
Roots2Shoots Organics is also open to other clients from all age groups who find their products attractive and also because they are health conscious. Asha adds, “Our USP is unprocessed, additives free and nutritive organic health foods. You won’t get organic provisions from us like cereals and pulses etc or things that you require on a day to day basis. We take care of the special nutrition requirements of our target group like low calorie, high fiber, rich in protein etc. The reason is basically due to the availability of such products in our farm. The second reason is that it is our positioning strategy because we can’t be everything to everybody. We should differentiate somewhere and that’s our business strategy.”
Products at Roots2Shoots Organics
Asha and Sweetha share a list of the products that are currently available at Roots2Shoots Organics.
One of the main products is organic red rice, which is also known as Navara rice. It is an essential ingredient that is used in several Ayurvedic treatments because of its exceptional blood cleansingproperties. It is a highly fibrous rice, which is suitable for people who need to limit their calorie intake in cases of obesity, diabetics etc. It is different than other red rice; but in terms of physical appearance it is similar to any red rice. However, in terms of its nutritional content, it is superior to other varieties of rice. Navara rice is widely used in Ayurveda due to its medicinal properties and benefits in the curing circulatory, respiratory, digestive and nervous system ailments. Molecular studies conducted by a team of scientists from the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) indicated the presence of a gene fragment encoding a protein called Bowman-Birk Trypsin Inhibitor, which is reported to have anti-carcinogenic (chemo-preventive) property, especially to fight against breast cancer. Also, apart from its medicinal properties, Navara is a rare breed rice that is grown only in a few parts of Kerala.
Organic Multi-cereal Health mix, also known as Nutrivita, is a health mix consisting of six cereals and three pulses. It is a good source of protein and easily digestible because of which, it is a good choice for convalescing patients, for children four years and above or anyone who would like to relish an enriched drink. The main ingredient in this mix is Navara rice, so you get the benefits of this rice as well. Nutrivita is very easy to prepare, so it makes up for an easy and healthy food option for people who are busy.
Organic baby food, Navatone, is a mix of Navara rice and Kunnan variety of banana that is traditionally used for preparing baby food in Kerala. The variety of banana in the mix is very good for babies as it removes any type of stomach discomforts. The banana is used in its raw form, which is powdered and is known as banana flour or banana ash. The banana ash is highly alkaline and therefore can check acidity in stomach and bowel, heart burn and colic. It can be used by all people and especially good for people who have stomach discomforts like acidity, gastro problems.
Organic Coconut oil – “We have cold pressed coconut oil made without the addition of any chemicals. Many people have got wrong information about coconut oil because of bad propaganda being circulated in the media about its ill effect. Actually Coconut oil is very heat-stable oil, which makes it suited to methods of cooking at high temperatures like frying. Coconut oil contains a fatty acid called lauric acid, which is found naturally only in breast milk, and which aids the formation of HDL (High Density Lipid) cholesterol in your body, which is actually good for you. Pure coconut oil contains 50% of Lauric acid, so our organic coconut oil is a healthy choice,” quips Asha.
Organic Hair Oil–Kesakala– This is a mix of 16 organic herbs in a base of organic coconut oil. Apart from organic certification from India, Roots2Shoots Organics have an Italian Organic Certification (ICEA, the Istituto per la Certificazione Etica) for cosmetics for this product.
Apart from these products,Roots2Shoots Organics also produces organic turmeric powder, organic vanilla bean etc. While keeping the surprise intact, Asha further mentions, “We try to add new and interesting products. In fact, we have a few more interesting products lined up for children and adults, but we are waiting for the completion of certifications before launching these products.”
The products offered at Roots2Shoots Organics range from Rs 50 to Rs 250 and are presently sold through the Farmer’s Market in Mumbai, an initiative by Kavita Mukhi, an eco-nutritionist. Those living in Mumbai can order their products from their Facebook page and get them delivered at their doorstep. Asha and Sweetha have plans to make their products available through online organic stores and different health food stores across the city.
Sourcing of raw materials
Presently, all the products are sourced from the Nilgiri Hills in Wayanad, which is a place for exotic fauna and flora. What makes this location unique is that, apart from its natural setting, it is thankfully, far from human exploitation and that it is a tribal land. The farms from where Roots2Shoots Organics source their products employ mainly women folk and it offers a means of livelihood for them.
“This is the most beautiful aspect because from the point of cultivation to harvest, to processing and packing, everything is done by women. It is a sight to behold. This movement has brought about a massive change in the status of women in the society and they have become empowered through nature. They are known as “Women of the Woods”,” adds Asha.
Certification of organic products
These certifications are for the processing center and the products- both processed and unprocessed. Asha says, “We have got the certification after years of hard work and commitment. It takes three years of strenuous work for a land to be certified as organic. However, it does not end there. They are constantly monitored as well. The food products, prepared from the raw materials coming from organic certified lands need another set of organic certifications like USDA (US organic certifications) EU (European organic certification.”
The Indian Organic certification is called NOP (National Organic program). There are certifying bodies like Indocert and Ecocert, who certify the farms and the products. GMP stand for Good Manufacturing Practise and HACCP is a part of GMP and stands for Hazard analysis and critical control points. These are required for processing food products. For these certifications, all processing centers have to follow lot of Standard operating procedures, which are monitored closely.
Challenges can be of any kind – one of the most common is the price factor. People tend to think that organic food products are expensive, but not realizing how healthy and safe it can be. Asha and Sweetha list out three major challenges that they face in their line of work.
Consumers are of the opinion that organic food is not tasty and difficult to prepare. Organic food may not taste as much like a processed, chemically laced and additive added food product, but they can taste great if prepared creatively.
There is a mindset that preparing organic food is a difficult task. For example red rice takes more time to cook. But, it can be made easy if we plan ahead. If we presoak the rice for half an hour before cooking, the rice cooks fast.
Consumers also tend to find organic food boring and unattractive. This is especially because parents find it difficult for making their kids eat organic food. Health mix porridge may not be attractive for kids. Parents have to approach this problem differently, like cooking it creatively. For example we can make excellent cookies with the health mix, salads with red rice etc.
Five Health Mistakes
Organic food and living is not as difficult as it may appear to be. It is about changing certain habits and imbibing healthier ones. Asha and Sweetha list out five major health mistakes that we make in our everyday life and how we can remedy them.
Reheating oil- One should avoid reheating oil as it tends to change its chemical form and produces harmful chemicals. Alternative is to use less oil for cooking as less oil would be left over so you are not tempted to use it again. You can replace deep frying with grilling or shallow frying.
Excessive use of salt– This is bad for your health in the long run. Either limit the salt usage or use common salt, rock salt or epsum salt. In some dishes you can use one particular salt and in the other, another. The idea is to bring down the total sodium intake, while at the same time meet your salt requirement.
She further adds, “Salt is not a plant to be grown organically and hence organic salt would be different from common salt in the way it is processed. It would also have many of the minerals of the natural salt retained. Actually natural salt has over 80 minerals, but after processing it’s reduced to only 2 to 3 minerals and some extra chemicals added to it to make it free flowing etc. So opting for organic salt is definitely useful as it meets your requirement of many rare minerals. “
Another way is adding salt at the end of your cooking. In that way, salt won’t enter the food particle, it will just coat it from outside and you get a feeling that the food has enough salt. Also watch out for packaged foods, which have high sodium content. All packed foods have a high salt content.
Usage of white starch in the form of white rice, maida, etc. – They have dead calories, as they don’t provide you anything but energy. They are used up fast in the body and you tend to have a craving for it. It is not the carbohydrate which is at fault, but the form of carbohydrate. We all need carbohydrate for energy and hence we should not avoid it. Instead, we should choose complex carbs like brown rice, red rice, oats, wheat etc. Try using oats powder for making your favourite Manchurian or soups or rice powder for the pasta sauce. You would no longer feel guilty when you substitute with these complex carbs. You can make cakes out of almond flour instead of all purpose flour.
Cooking large quantity of food and storing in refrigerator for later use – If possible, avoid cooking in large quantities and try to prepare fresh food every day. From the time food is prepared, it starts decomposing and changes it chemical structure. Reheating of food releases harmful toxins, which is not good for your cells as it leads to the accumulation of toxins in your cells causing various diseases. One way to avoid this, buy a small size fridge, so you won’t have place to store excess food. Plan your meals ahead so that you can make fresh food without much effort.
Rinsing vegetable after cutting and peeling them – If you rinse the vegetables after chopping, it will drain out essential vitamins, most of which are water soluble. The alternative is to put all your vegetables in warm water with some salt and turmeric powder and keep aside for 15 minutes, to remove all residual chemicals, waxes etc.
So the next time you hear your friend sipping on organic tea or having an organic porridge for breakfast, remember that she has taken the first step to staying fit and healthy by making a small change in her food habits.
Roots2Shoots Organics can be contacted on their Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/roots2shoots.
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