Thursday, July 18, 2013

Biscuits for Relief – the OFR Biscuit

This Blogger appeals to every major biscuit, cracker or cookie maker in the world who is moved by compassion aside from a need for profits, to research and produce at least a couple of varieties of the OFR biscuits described here as a part of their Corporate social responsibility program and supply these to a relief agency or distressed area near them.
A biscuit is a compact baked food product with a long shelf life due to the fact that it has low moisture content. An ordinary biscuit may consist primarily of refined wheat flour. It can serve as a snack food that helps alleviate hunger due to its carbohydrate content. Addition of flavoring substances can even make it delicious. However, an ordinary biscuit is no substitute for food because it does not contain all the nutrients and proteins that are essential for good health. Yet there are special biscuits of various kinds that are fortified with proteins and nutrients that may be used to both ward of hunger and maintain reasonable health at least for brief periods stretching up to a few weeks. Such biscuits are ideal for emergency situations such as disaster relief e.g. people trapped in floods, or refugees displaced by natural disasters or wars etc. Such situations may be marked with lack of facilities for preparation and distribution of food on site and food hygiene dangers.

These special nutritional biscuits can be delivered or Para dropped easily to trapped humans because they are compact and store well. They may be sweet, salted or mixed. High energy fortified biscuits may provide up to 500kcal and up to 15 grams of protein per 100 grams, fortified in vitamins and minerals. (As an example see Development of a high energy biscuit for use as a food supplement in disaster relief, by H. Young and others, International Journal of Food Science & Technology, Volume 20, Issue 6, pages 689–695, December 1985)

A fortified biscuit may also be used over long periods as a quick lunch or in midday meal programs in schools where sufficient or proper infrastructure and monitoring does not exist to guarantee a healthy snack or meal for children during school hours.

These biscuits may serve to provide quick relief not only to those affected by disaster but also those trapped in wars or refugees suffering from hunger.

However, the usual  relief biscuits as presently available around the world cannot serve as a long term food supplement for several reasons some of which are,

1.   Lack of variety: They come as a single type (from each manufacturer) and cannot be eaten day in and day out since the human body naturally craves for variety in food

2.  They contain chemical fortifications such as bicarbonates, minerals and vitamins such as: Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Iodine, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12b C, D, E, Niacin, and Vitamin A-retinol. Whereas this suffices over short periods of time the long term effects of consuming chemical supplements instead of natural foods is by no mean certain. It is definitely not natural or organic.

3.   A common protein component of such biscuits are soy proteins that cause flatulence and may not be digested easily by all, especially children. Its effects on health are controversial and fraught with risks ( see)

4.  Even with all its fortifications the chemically fortified biscuits are an incomplete food for long term consumption because the human body requires several other nutrients and micro-nutrients for maintaining good health.

Disaster relief food can be improved if these biscuits are consumed along with reconstituted milk made from milk powder provided in small sealed pouches and some fresh fruits and vegetables if available. Small pouches of milk powder are necessary because the shelf life of milk powder is drastically reduced when it comes in contact with atmospheric or other moisture. However, with enough research that is not rocket science requiring much labor, the four limitations of available biscuits listed above can be overcome considerably so that the biscuit can even serve as a long term food supplement to alleviate malnutrition in deprived communities including children. It would even be a better alternative in disaster relief situation. These biscuits are described next. They have been termed as OFR Biscuits (OFR for Organic Food Relief) here.

The first requirement for an OFR biscuit is that it should contain only natural food additives and not chemical ones. Dehydrated vegetable powders such as dried spinach leaf, goose foot/bathua, mustard leaf, Lucerne leaf, dried sea weed, dried carrot powder, drumstick leaf powder, mung bean flower, roasted chick pea flour, dried ground coconut, other ground tree nuts, peanut butter, milk powder etc. mixed up to 15 percent with biscuit flour and seasoned with natural herbs such as dehydrated ginger, garlic, cumin, aniseed, pomegranate seeds, dried tamarind, stevia sweetner, Crushed jaggery sweetener or spray dried sugar cane juice flakes instead of white sugar, rock salt, black and red pepper, coriander, dry Avla powder etc. are safer, more natural and healthier than those fortified and seasoned with chemicals, chemical vitamins and minerals. It may be noted that mung bean flour has replaced the soy flour here since it is more easily digested by children. Chick pea flour has been suggested as roasted chick pea flour only because the process of roasting makes it more easily digestible.

The food additives listed here is just a sample list. Numerous other useful foods may be considered and discovered to broaden the list. Only very limited additions of absolutely essential chemicals may be permitted in such biscuits such as raising agents and perhaps ascorbic acid. There is a need for more research along these lines to discover the best food combinations and seasonings to produce a range of OFR biscuits that may then be deployed around the world whenever required. This author is available for any comments or suggestions in this direction.

The motivation for the present note arose from a recent disaster in the Himalayas and several more disasters in the midday meal program for children prevalent in Indian schools. While the intention of the latter program is to alleviate hunger and malnutrition amongst children in deprived communities, the program has suffered major set backs due to lack of infrastructure, improper storage, spoilage, monitoring, hygiene etc. in schools spread across the country. The result is that the program often ends up ruining the health of the children in the program instead of helping them. With the availability of OFR biscuits as described here, the program may be more effectively implemented if these biscuits are supplied in small packets along with milk, fresh if a reliable controlled supply is available, otherwise reconstituted out of similar small packets of milk powder on site, Such biscuits once available would also serve as a replacement for existing disaster relief situations. Because of the variety of food additives possible such biscuits can be produced in a variety of types. Thus the above listed limitations of existing disaster relief biscuits shall be overcome.

These biscuits may easily be produced by minor modifications of existing production lines of large scale biscuit manufacturers for maximum economy and widest possible distribution. Most varieties would need to be salted but would vary in size and textures, thin cracker like or thick soft cookie types, green containing an abundance of spinach or leafy matter and red tomato flavored ones. Besides disaster and nutrition relief, some could even serve as a quick lunch with cheese; or a simple dinner with a soup and a salad for just about anyone who did not want to bother with cooking at times; and it would be an ideal companion for a traveler.

PS: The OFR biscuit may be pronounced as offer biscuit and may also be described as an OFFER biscuit - Organic food fortified economy biscuit

Associated links

UPDATE: MAY 2014: Either because of this blog or otherwise it seems that the Parle company has now introduced a new biscuit in the market  called Parle -G Gold that used vegetable oils instead of trans fats. The new biscuit is also reasonably priced.

UPDATE OCT 2014   It seems that many teachers across schools in USA are reporting that children are reluctant to be at home in weekends because there is not enough to eat and some good-hearted teachers are getting together to fill the backpacks of such children for the weekends. They might wish to look at OFR biscuits too as a part of the solution. Read about it here

UPDATE October 2015

OFR Crackers

The OFR biscuits may also be made by existing ingredients of crackers. Recently this author came across crackers made by an Indian company that do not contain Trans fats or artificial color and flavors. They are marketed by the Britannia Industries Limited under the name of Nutri Choice in India. However the existing varieties are primarily wheat based and others on line of OFR biscuits may be attempted by this or other companies. Two possibilities are

Mung Crackers: These may be made by replacing ten percent of the wheat flour by volume with Mung bean flour, both the flour of washed and whole beans may be attempted. The spicing for this may be turmeric and coriander leaf or seed powder

Spinach Crackers: Similarly replacing ten percent of flour by volume with dried spinach leaf flour and using garlic powder and cumin powder may be attempted. A caution must be exercised that dried spinach leaves are from a reliable supply source that ensures a pesticide free supply that is well washed before drying and cleaned of any grasses or weeds.

Milk Crackers: Both the preceding crackers would need to be salty crackers. A sweet one may be made by using milk powder in the mix with milk between 5-10% by volume.

Existing Cracker: Although it is great that the existing cracker does not use synthetic flavors there is no reason why it can not use natural ones. It is rather bland to be consumed alone just as a dry roti would be if eaten alone. Some natural flavors that may be considered are dehydrated onions, coriander powder and garlic while also increasing its salt and vegetable oil content slightly.

It would have to be checked if the cracker maintains its consistency for packaging and does not crumble when the flour mix is changed as in the above three suggestions and then adjust the mix accordingly. The precise mix and selection of spices may be varied by trial experimentation

Also see the New OFR biscuits here:

UPDATE Jan 2017

New studies appear to confirm the belief of this note that it is not advisable to use Soy proteins in fortified food. See:


Anmol Biscuits said...

Anmol is a well-known name among the Biscuit Manufacturers in India. In sync with the traits of a Top Biscuit Manufacturer, Anmol pays complete attention to the quality control steps, thereby ensuring that the consumers receive only the best quality products.

Ashok said...

Best wishes for your business Anmol. Do you have any specific suggestion/comment on the contents of this note based on your experience?