My experience in the world of natural health has always been from the consumer side—learning about new supplements, treatments, and remedies for what ails me. But as the new associate editor at Functional Ingredients I’m finally getting to see the other side of the natural products industry. Thanks to Rudi Moerck, PhD, CEO of Valensa International, I now understand what I always suspected—extraction method matters when it comes to sourcing the ingredients that go into those supplements I buy.
There’s chemical extraction, which uses chemical solvents (usually hexane, a petroleum distillate) to separate botanical ingredients. In theory most if not all of the chemical solvent is removed in a distillation process, but trace amounts may still get through.
This is why Valensa and a growing number of ingredient suppliers have switched to the more expensive (but better for us and for the environment) method of supercritical carbon extraction. This method relies on pressure to separate ingredients. It provides an oxygen-free environment so delicate compounds are less likely to degrade, making it more efficient. Best part? Not only are there no chemical residues, but according to Valensa’s website, “high pressure supercritical CO2 delivers higher levels of some very desirable compounds.” They use saw palmetto as an example. Supercritical extraction produces “three times the beta carotene, ten times the amount of lutein and 30 times the zeaxanthin.”
But wait, folks, there’s more!
Expeller pressing, often used to extract oils—although some conventional suppliers use chemical extraction for oils—cuts out the chemicals and provides pure, healthy oils for food or supplements. It works pretty much like it sounds. Seeds or nuts are put in a press and squished until oil seeps out, leaving the fiber material behind. The process creates some heat because of the pressure and friction involved, which can alter flavors. So then there’s cold pressing, which is pretty much the same, but in a temperature-controlled environment to preserve delicate oils like EFAs and Rachel Ray’s EVOO.
I’ve always been one of those label readers, dawdling in the grocery aisle to make sure I can pronounce all the ingredients in my peanut butter before I toss it in the basket. But even though I can pronounce saw palmetto or flax seed oil, it’s nice to finally know where those ingredients come from and that at least some of the companies extracting them have my health and the health of our planet in mind when they do it.