Innovesca bets on amaranth plants from Rwanda-Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, September 13, 2013

Innovesca bets on amaranth plants from Rwanda

Kale chips. Dandelion greens sauteed in butter and garlic. Wild ramp lemon risotto.

A foodie revolution that has turned former castaways of the American garden into centerpieces of the dinner table could turn a weed in Rwanda into a cash crop, if a local company's plan falls into place.

Innovesca, an Uptown food technology company started in Carnegie Mellon University's Project Olympus program, has inked a deal with Rwanda's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources to grow and process the amaranth plant for retail sale.

Amaranth, or Dodo, as it's called in Rwanda, is a leafy green plant whose grain is already used in the United States for gluten-free flour. Innovesca co-founder Lacramioara Schulte auf'm Erley said the plant grows throughout the world, but in Rwanda, where it is so abundant it's known as "the plant from the gods," the idea of creating and marketing amaranth-based baby foods or energy bars was an easy sell.

"[The farmers] were so happy when they heard they can actually make money off of those plants. A lot of them work on coffee plantations and harvest [season] is only three months, so they are looking to increase income through other jobs," Ms. Erley said.

Co-founder Mary Beth Wilson said the idea of extracting the nutrition from sparsely used plants came from two separate inquires that came her way while pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon: one from a food company exploring how textural changes affect the taste of ketchup and another from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeking strategies to improve childhood nutrition...Read more»

By: Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette