Pongamia trees – which are sometimes referred to as ‘vertical soy’ as they produce seeds that contain high levels of protein and high-oleic oils – have not historically been used as a food crop owing to anti-nutritional factors.
However, TerViva has developed proprietary techniques that remove anti-nutritional components during processing, opening up new food and beverage market opportunities for the nitrogen-fixing crop beyond animal feed and biofuels.
It has also has built an IP platform around high-yielding pongamia trees coupled with propagation techniques that deliver scalable, consistent crops in a variety of locations from Florida (where it partners with fruit growers devastated by citrus greening disease), to Hawaii (on land previously dedicated to sugarcane).
High yields, low inputs
The latest funding round was led by a diversified agricultural family office, Evans Properties, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, and a group of Florida agricultural family offices, who join existing investors including the Elemental Excelerator, the Yield Lab, Astia Angels, Allotrope Ventures and Howard Fischer of Gratitude Railroad.
The cash injection will allow TerViva to accelerate processing and product development partnerships to demonstrate the commercial viability of pongamia protein and oil and grow the infrastructure to supply farmers with its patented high-yielding oilseed trees, said TerViva founder and CEO Naveen Sikka.
“Consumption of plant-based proteins and oils is growing rapidly, but the amount of arable land to grow these crops is increasingly limited. We’ve developed a sustainable, market-driven approach for farmers to profit off marginal land by cultivating trees that can feed the planet.”
We've recently made a pongamia milk that has a terrific mouthfeel
VP Jim Astwood, who spoke to FoodNavigator-USA at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show earlier this year, said the company will put together GRAS determinations for the oils and proteins, which he claims have a variety of food and beverage applications.
"On the oils side, this is a high oleic oil that's very similar in some regards to an olive oil or a high oleic soybean oil. One difference though is there are very low levels of omega-6s and unique [low] levels of saturates, so it has a unique positioning offering a new type of functionality for the industry.
"On the protein side, the protein - being in the legume family - has some analogous types of protein that you'd see in pea and soy and some others, but what we see is really strong gelling and emulsification properties... so we've recently made a pongamia milk that has a terrific mouthfeel because of that emulsification capability, and the protein content is quite high relative to nutmilks. We're 10x what you'd see in an almondmilk.
"For human nutrition it's an ideal replacement for soybeans," added Astwood.
TerViva has 150,000 trees under contract with existing customers that include several of the largest citrus farmers in Florida, and will deliver an additional 200,000 trees in the next two years.
- Watch our VIDEO with TerViva at the Winter Fancy Food Show.