Even though technology is ready for synthetic foods and some of them have found their way from the labs to our tables, there is no doubt that it is making some people squirm.
Thankfully, this nuclear physicist from Hyderabad has a solution to your problem as he trusts the goodness of sun over artificial methods when it comes to food!
In a heart-warming conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, Srinivasa Chakrawarthy Ravuri, founder of Sunplay, shares the idea behind harnessing the energy of the sun, trusting the goodness of nature when it comes to having quality food on your plate and the challenges he is facing being an entrepreneur.
Born in Pune, Srinivasa completed his Ph.D. from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and became a Nuclear physicist by profession. “For 20 years, I traveled to numerous countries, Germany, England, Canada and spent working in different labs. It was 2007 when I came back to India, the energy crisis was a big concern for everyone about across the globe,” says Srinivasa.
He continues. “I was an experimental nuclear physicist back then, but when you are offered a job that either doesn’t meet your profile or somehow you fail to believe in, it is best to step back and create something new that you believe will create a positive shift in the society.”
What led to ‘Sunplay’
In India, we complain so much about the weather, Srinivasa says, but we fail to realize that we can do so much using solar energy. “I wanted to experiment using the power of the sun, which is a free and a constant source of energy. “When a senior of mine handed me a packet of ragi malt and asked me to do something about it by harnessing the energy of the sun and that’s how Sunplay was born in 2014.”
He, along with his wife Syamala, started studying and experimenting with grain handling, grain milling, and grain roasting and came up with solar-powered equipment to prepare ragi malt so that the taste and nutritional value of millet are intact. Within three months, the first batch the product was ready for the market.
Roasting a millet is not easy. When he saw that he can do something that has not been done before, his interest grew and that’s how the journey in the food processing started. “Taking the germinated cereal and drying it using the power of the sun is what we do. Adding right temperature is essential in this process and therefore over the years we modified the process” he says.
“In the food processing industry, there is a very calculated approach about how to preserve and process food. We looked at the existing methods and techniques and thought about how to improve it without destroying the nutritional value of the product and how Sunplay can fit in there.”
Srinivasa explains, “When the grain is used in a solar oven, the process is very slow. Roasting ragi to perfection is what we wanted to do. Therefore, using the solar dehydrators ensure controlled dehydration, adds more time to the process. Therefore, the flavor and nutritional value of the millet is retained, which doesn’t happen in an industrial scale roaster.” And he started to focus on the major applications of solar energy.
Adding Time to Food
Eating is crucial for human survival, but so is checking what’s on your plate. Some food products are marketed as healthy, but what they actually do is sabotage our diets!
“Industrial food is heavily processed and because there is a lot of money is invested, the entrepreneurs hope to make a profit out of it. The basic goal is not to spoil the health of the consumer if the product is not doing any good to them. This is how the whole idea of artificial flavoring, preservatives come into this,” laughs Srinivasa.
“How different cultures are treating food and evolving is an interesting area that we focus on. We apply science to old technologies for growing food and check the results from time to time to ensure good quality,” he says.
The fast-paced urban living has impacted our health in ways that are unimaginable. “We complain about the shortage of time and include instant mixes, ready to eat or packaged food items in our daily routine that come with additives and preservatives. Instead, I believe we should trust nature and add time to our food if we want a healthy mind and body.”
“Traditional method of cooking doesn’t involve adding artificial flavors in food because the raw ingredients itself are induced with flavors, so why to change it?” asks Srinivasa.
“Our idea was not to make food items that look good but taste great. In a timescale of 20 years, people are demanding tomatoes to be perfect red and uniform in shape. You cannot grow mangoes overnight, it demands time,” he says.
“Nature is a dynamic system and it is very forgiving. When you stay close to nature, you learn to respect it and when you respect it, it never lets you down,” says Srinivasa and recalls how working in a lab for 3 ½ years in Vancouver, that was located in the middle of the forest was one of the most humbling experiences of his life.
Being a Super-food entrepreneur
Srinivasa neither believes in marketing or comprising food quality and this is the only reason why they stand out from the crowd. Every week whatever they produce is sold out. Therefore, the production is now restricted to Hyderabad only.
We started visiting farmer’s markets to find buyers for our product. It is essential to establish the transparency between farmers, consumers and the whole process that goes into it. They should be informed and aware of what’s on their plate, he says.
“Farmers come to us and we discuss which millet is suitable for malting or processing. A lot of thought goes into it, what to give our consumers.” He mentions that during the journey, his team collected ragi from different states, Odisha, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu to understand its properties and found out that certain varieties of this cereal crop are not suitable for certain people.
“Each year we pick up a different project and try to do something new. Last year, we focused on different types of ancient wheat because we found out that a lot of people have intolerance towards this. So we decided to go back to the varieties of wheat which are not hybridized and to our surprise we found Paigambari, an ancient stream of wheat that has its roots in Indus Valley Civilization.”
While the farmers who are growing it are aware of its properties, the city people are very excited to try something they have never tasted it before. “Farmers will surely grow the wheat if they know that they will get a good return. So, if the consumers’ demands increase, the farmers are eager to produce it. The idea is to grow something of better quality that is beneficial to the users.”
Apart from this, Srinivasa strongly believes parents, teachers, and society should give children a chance to consume nature. Including gardening in school curriculum is essential for them as it increases their bonding with nature.
It is said that senses are just like muscles when you don’t use them over a period of time, they shrink and disappear. Same with the quality of food, know that a healthy body gives rise to a healthy mind.
We would love to see Sunplay products, making a mark on the world, but for now, you can also select your food wisely!