By Kaushik Shankar*             

In 2016, I had raised the idea of a “satvik” symbol for processed foods, much like our green/brown dot symbols for vegetarian/non-vegetarian foods. Key questions revolve around market potential, benefits to the consumer and the industry, and the nature of such a label (who will certify to what standards).

Health and wellness is a trend that has been dovetailed into food formulations over the past decade in the west. This has taken the form of calorie reduction, fortification with minerals/vitamins, addition of nutraceutical ingredients like fibers, antioxidants and omega-3. In India, this trend picked up even as the processed food industry began to start making inroads.

 Many traditional societies have developed the idea of food influencing characteristics/mood/physical well being of the human body based on esoteric concepts of energy flows. In India, this is codified in the traditional systems of medicine – Ayurveda, siddha, and regional systems. Of these, Ayurveda has a pan-India presence and appeal.

Ayurveda, as a upaveda of the Atharva veda was codified in the charaka Samhita with three branches, of which the nara Ayurveda deals with human wellbeing. The 27th chapter of the charaka Samhita (annapana vidhi adhyaya) deals with the process of partaking food along with cooking methodologies. While undeniable that this teaching has been an integral part of life over millennia in Bharat, current processing methods and formats must be heavily experimented with to align with this principle. This is the first challenge.

 Reformulating for the purpose of creating a healthy food on the principles of Ayurveda is not a simple matter of adding beneficial ingredients. Ayurveda classifies foods based on composition, source, forms, and effect. There are modern equivalencies to

Classification Ayurvedic terms Proposed modern equivalent
Composition Ease of digestion – Laghu (quickly digestible) and Guru (slowly digestible) Digestibility, satiety, glycemic
Source Shuka (grains), Shami (pulses), mamsa (meat), shaka (vegetables), phala (fruit), Haritha (greens), madya (fermented), jala (water), dugdha (dairy), ikshu (sweet), kritanna (cooked), ahara yogi (adjuvants, condiments, spices, seasonings) In parantheses associated with the ayurvedic terms
Form Ashita (eatable), peeta (drinkable), leedha (lickable) and khadita (masticable) Food and beverage further classified into snacks and confectionery
Effect Pathyatama (wholesome) and apathyatama (unwholesome) Healthy, specific beneficial positioning like gut, heart etc.

Within the ayurvedic texts, further definitions of each of these terms are available along with specific food items and processes that could fall under these definitions. It is obvious that there is a large synergy between the terms that the modern food industry is used to and what Ayurveda suggests. Grey areas like pathyatam/apathyatama exist even in the modern processed food world. For example, in study to understand clean label, multiple terms have been used by the food industry to come under this umbrella label. 

Ayurveda also takes a holistic view of food intake. Hence the properties of food along with the quantity, timing, sequence, regularity of intake and environment in which food is to be partaken is also codified. Another feature is personalization based on the prakriti (nature of the person). This can be akin to personalized nutrition that is becoming popular in the west and a key research area for processed food companies. The difference again is the problems of the consumer that is taken up for personalisation. For example, calorie intake based on metabolism (for example, physical activity) and disorders (for example, diabetes) is not the same as vata/pitta/kapha that Ayurveda defines are the nature of the consumer. These differences need to be aligned.

While many other areas of interest exist, one of the factors that is not under the direct control of the food industry is legislation. In the west, legislative challenges to labelling meat/dairy/egg analogues containing these terms are being debated. In India, a couple of dichotomies have already been observed by Giract. A popular ayurvedic chain has some food products with license from FSSAI (therefore classified as food) and some products with Ayush license (therefore an ayurvedic proprietary medicine). Another product is “chyavanaprashad”, presumably since the formulation has been modified from the original to make it sugar free, and therefore ineligible to be called “chyavanaprash”. Many of Patanjali products contain a green dot, which is not necessary for ayurvedic proprietary medicines (falls under FSSAI). While these are minor differences that were noticed by the author, when the trend picks up and products begin to flood the market, even small errors of judgement on part of the industry can have a magnified effect on consumer sentiment and acceptance of these products.

*Project Manager, GIRACT