RedLeaf Biologics on its novel sorghum extract: ‘Science meets luck and the magic of biology and nature’

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

About 300 acres of RedNatural sorghum varietal across central Kentucky.   Image courtesy of RedLeaf Biologics
About 300 acres of RedNatural sorghum varietal across central Kentucky. Image courtesy of RedLeaf Biologics

Related tags Sorghum Nutrition

After more than 10 years of developing a novel, non-GMO red sorghum varietal, Kentucky-based RedLeaf Biologics is expecting a strong commercial end to the year for its Sorghum Bioflavonoid Complex (SBC).

The initial breakthrough came in 2009 when University of Kentucky plant scientist Seth DeBolt noted that one of his sorghum plants was completely red. DeBolt recognized that the red parts of the crop are where the plant’s valuable bioactives are concentrated and kept working on it.

This work eventually led to the RedNatural sorghum varietal, a non-GMO row crop that produces high-value compounds throughout the leaf biomass.

The company

RedLeaf Biologics was founded by DeBolt and renowned plant biochemist Chris Somerville in 2015, and the company is expecting the first consumer products containing its Sorghum Bioflavonoid Complex (SBC) to launch later this year, Sean Voigt, president of RedLeaf, told NutraIngredients-USA​.

The SBC contains an array of bioactive compounds including the flavones and flavanols, luteolin, quercetin, and myricetin, the hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives, such as ferulic acid, and p-coumaric acid, and esculetin, and 3-deoxyanthocyanidins like Apigeninidin and Luteolinidin.

“Our story is really where science meets luck and the magic of biology and nature,” ​said Voigt: DeBolt’s initial discovery was fortunate, but having continued to research and develop the extracts, the company now understands that these bioactives work on three fundamental and interconnected physiologies – oxidative stress, inflammation, and immunity.

On the anti-inflammatory potential, data indicates the extract can suppress numerous pro-inflammatory cytokines in a dose-dependent manner in cell models, with additional data showing activity against the inflammatory response to UV stress in skin cells. Also, of potential interest to beauty and beauty-from-within formulators, the RedLeaf SBC is reported to significantly reduce the primary activator of collagen protein degradation (pro-MMP1), which is typically activated in response to oxidative stress and inflammation.                                                                                                                                       

From an immune perspective, tests have also reportedly shown a dose-dependent increase in interleukin-2 (IL-2), proteins made by white blood cells which plays a key role in T-cell activation, proliferation, and regulation.

The company is also exploring the potential for the ingredient for physical performance and cognitive as part of wider healthy aging play.


And this powerful combination of benefits is already attracting attention from CPG companies across health and nutrition, and beauty, said Voigt.

In addition to its potential health benefits, the SBC is also water soluble, has no odor but rather has a pleasant herbal flavor. The polyphenol content is about 30%, he said.

The company is working with an array of potential partners including multinationals and key domestic brands using a diversity of delivery opportunities, from supplements to beverages. The first dietary supplement launch is expected in September or October this year, said Voigt.

Grown in Kentucky, Made in USA

The company secured $3 million in seed funding around 2018-19, and recently received approval for funding through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (KADF) for an additional $485,000.  That will be used to support efforts to expand the acreage of its RedNatural sorghum varietal across central Kentucky and to continue to build the infrastructure required for large scale harvest and processing of the agricultural product.

More than 250 acres of RedNatural sorghum was planted for leaf harvest in early October, with additional acreage for producing next year’s seeds, adding up to more 300 acres in central Kentucky.

Over the next five years the company plans to annually expand its planted acreage by a factor of three.  Some of those new fields will be outside of Kentucky in order to meet the expected demand for its botanical extract.

So what is the regulatory landscape like for this ingredient? Voigt said the company is starting with self-GRAS and plans to submit its GRAS dossier to the FDA before the end of the year.

Market debut

RedLeaf Biologics presented its new ingredient to the market at the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV.  The show concluded on Nov. 3.

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