Innovator produces prototype of tapioca starch utensils

M. Ravichandran, managing director, Yucca Bio Green Products, seen with some of his product samples made with tapioca starch.

M. Ravichandran, managing director, Yucca Bio Green Products, seen with some of his product samples made with tapioca starch. | Photo Credit: NAHLA NAINAR

After working for over 12 years on alternatives to disposable plastics and getting trounced by money or material challenges, M. Ravichandran, 59, has found his solution — in tapioca, a starch that is extracted from the storage roots of the cassava plant.

“With my method, we can get plates, glasses and bowls made with tapioca flour that can withstand hot and liquid food for up to 30 minutes. Once discarded, they are completely biodegradable,” Mr. Ravichandran told The Hindu.

Having returned to India for good in 2019 after spending over 30 years in Malaysia and Singapore as a businessman, Mr. Ravichandran has been fine-tuning his research and development on tapioca utensils with a unit in Nochiyam village.

The venture, now called Yucca Bio Green Products, originally had a Malyasian and two South Korean partners when it was operating in Kuala Lumpur, but was not profitable. “Though we had a more sophisticated and fully automated factory in Kuala Lumpur, we had to pay heavily for raw materials and labour. India is much more economical for this business, as plant by-products such as mango skins, bran, and jackfruit peel are often given away free or at a very nominal price here,” said Mr. Ravichandran, who holds the patent for the technology, besides a product permit from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

He has equipped the Nochiyam unit with machinery that he designed with special dies fabricated by local workshops. ,

“I mix the tapioca starch with other plant-based flours like thavidu (bran), thennai kuruthu (coconut stem) and jackfruit peel in a certain proportion, using an industrial cement-mixer type of machine. Once this powdery base is ready, it is kneaded with pure drinking water in a machine to a pliable dough that is cured and cut into smaller portions according to the vessel size,” said Mr. Ravichandran.

The innovator has also experimented mixing tapioca with powdered grape seed, moringa peel and pearl millet for the dough base.

The dough balls are placed on ‘male-female’ die sets, and baked at high temperature as plates and glasses. The utensils are allowed to cool down naturally before they are packed in cotton drawstring bags. Compared to other commercially made vessels that are biodegradable and cost upwards of ₹15 apiece, the Yucca brand sells for ₹7 per plate.

Mr. Ravichandran said his biggest challenge so far has been ensuring a steady supply of electricity. “At times the power goes off just when the baking has started, and we are left with scorched die plates because the dough is stuck in the middle,” he said.

The innovator hopes to shift his premises to a more industry-friendly suburb near Tiruchi for mass production of the starch utensils.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 8:39:14 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/innovator-produces-prototype-of-tapioca-starch-utensils/article65453687.ece