Follow our Chitosan post series here:
Unless you are in the aquatic, supplement, or a directly related industry (or somehow in your life and career came across it), Chitosan is not a word that floats around very commonly. You might have seen it on the back of a weight loss supplement bottle or fancy hospital bandage, or seen its relative ‘Chitin’ heavily featured in a Glucosamine bottle.
Just like any unfamiliar word, most people first turn to Google to understand what Chitosan is and what it is used for. Wikipedia will tell you “Chitosan is a linear polysaccharide composed of randomly distributed β-(1→4)-linked D-glucosamine (deacetylated unit) and N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (acetylated unit). It is made by treating the chitin shells of shrimp and other crustaceans with an alkaline substance, such as sodium hydroxide.” This is the very science definition of Chitosan, and unless you understand scientific language, you’ll probably be more confused than where you started with.
If you scroll further down the Google search page, you’ll see that WebMD explains that “Chitosan is a sugar that is obtained from the hard outer skeleton of shellfish, including crab, lobster, and shrimp. It is used for medicine.” This makes more sense, but still only tells you what it is at a superficial level.
To understand Chitosan is to understand WHERE it comes from, HOW it can be extracted, and WHAT it can be used for. Chitosan is firstly derived from Chitin – a substance that develops in the shells of arthropods (such as shrimps, crabs, and insects) as well as the cell walls of fungi. Picture the shrimp you buy at the market and the efforts taken to remove each shrimp shell (as swiftly as possible). As you finish de-shelling the shrimp and preparing the meat to cook, you quickly dispose of the mounting piles of shrimp heads, shells, and tails into the bin (or maybe you don’t have to because your supermarket already did it for you and charged you a premium for just the meat) and go about your time preparing that protein-rich, fancy meal. Your pile of shrimp meat has gotten much ‘lighter’ and ‘visually less’ than the whole shrimp you originally bought.
The majority of the world (restaurants and consumers alike) usually will not spare a second thought to what was discarded in the efforts to eat shrimp. Unfortunately, what a lot of us don’t realize (including even the employees before they started working at VNF) is that the ‘co-products’ of the shrimp that the world discards (heads, shells, tails) are jam-packed with abundant nutrition and value.
When VNF receives the co-products at either factory, initial cleaning and sorting take place (as with most manufacturing facilities). The first step in VNF’s proprietary biotechnological zero-waste production model starts with ‘pressing’ the shrimp co-products. This action divides the output into pressed protein liquid and pressed shells. The pressed protein liquid is then separated to be processed further into VNF’s Food Ingredients and BioNutrients products. However, the pressed shells go directly into producing Chitin, and from there Chitosan production. (The exact and descriptive steps to get from Chitin and Chitosan production can be found on Google if you are up for some ‘light’ chemistry and scientific reading). Basically (and in short), the pressed shells go through levels of ‘washing’ off minerals and protein, to then be left with these feather-light, white flakes called Chitosan. It may not look like much and to the naked eye, it looks like something you’d probably vacuum up if you saw floating around on the floor at home. But this biopolymer, which has done an astounding job of providing shell protection to shrimps as they keep growing and molting their shells, has untapped potential for every possible industry in the world.
A wise professor once told us that “Chitosan can be used for every single industry in the world. But not one type of Chitosan can be used every single industry” The reason being is that Chitosan is BIOFRIENDLY, BIODEGRADABLE, and ANTI-MICROBIAL. Big claims to leave at the end of this article, but we assure you, Chitosan can play in all the BIG leagues and we’ll explain why in next week’s article…(because if we wrote it all in one article, no one except the author of this article would actually read it all…)