Chemistry, you either hate or love the subject, there is no middle ground. But the most fascinating aspects of Chemistry were the lab experiments, especially titration where we observed miraculous changes in colours based on presence of different compounds.

 Our next pathbreaker, Manigandan, is an Analytical Chemist, running experiments in the lab, extracting desired spices and testing chemical /nutritional composition of foods, especially nutraceuticals to meet desired standards and specifications.

The next time you see precise and exact compositions of various nutritional elements and spices in a  food product we need to thank an Analytical Chemist for their precise laboratory analysis& calculations.

Manigandan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his love for chemistry and lab work

Manigandan, please tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Ooty. I studied BSc and MSc in chemistry.

I used to play volleyball, shuttle cock and sometimes read books. My initial interest was in mathematics. My father is doing agriculture, and my mother is a home maker.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

As I mentioned above, I am a chemistry student. Since am interested in the analytical field, I chose to be a part of testing laboratories.

I attended one conference on food adulteration and testing. It was inspiring and interesting too. As I was already working in food industry, it was easy for me to jump into food testing.

Tell us about your career path

It was my father’s wish that i become a double degree holder. He always used to tell me this from my childhood. To fulfil his wish, i joined MSc and chose my current field because of my interest in analytical chemistry.

After my graduation, i didnt know what to do. Initially I didn’t have any idea about how to search, whom to approach? Since i am from chemistry background, i started searching for jobs in relevant areas only and hence joined I used to visit companies personally as well. After all my efforts I was selected in a spice extraction company, Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd. Though I was strong in theory, i wasnt sure about my skills in practical applications. It was my first job and i got a chance to learn something new apart from my syllabus.

Extraction is nothing but a separation process. It is the preparation of a desired substance from a matrix by using various solvents viz., Methanol, Ethanol, Ethyl acetate, Water etc., 

Most spices have medicinal properties, which are extracted by various methods and then used in the preparation of cosmetics, tablets, health mixes etc. 

Here, we were majorly using Soxhlet method of extraction. Once the extraction is completed, the solvent should be evaporated to get the desired components.

Just to know how much of the extract we retain, we calculate actual extract weight by subtracting the total extract from the initial weight and then convert it into percentage. Next we do various quantitative analysis for Curcuminoids and Punicalagins using HPLC, AITC(Allyl isothiocyanate), BITC(Butyl iso thiocyanate), Fatty acids using GC.Polyphenols, Anisidine value, Absorbance using UV. We analyze rest of the parameters using gravimetry or Titrimetry. 

We analyse multiple herbal products. ie., Turmeric, Garcinia, Pomegranate, Mustard & Fish oil.

When I was working in Arjuna Natural Extract Ltd., Company, I met with an accident and my left leg was injured. I couldn’t walk. My doctor suggested that i take complete rest for few months. So, i was at home for around five months. Once I recovered, i started searching job. It was very difficult for me to search a job again due to long break.

While searching, one of my cousin’s brothers had referred me in one MNC company, Eurofins. I got selected in the interview. But there was a delay. So I joined in Phytotech extracts limited.

Phytotech is a kind of extraction company. It was relevant to my work in my old company. So i joined as a QC Officer.

This is also a kind of neutraceutical company. As we all know, nowadays nutraceutical products are in trend and you can see these foods in all super markets. Nutraceutical foods have medicinal properties.

Here we do extraction of a few products and directly procure some of the products from other nutraceutical companies  eg., Green tea extract, Boswellia extract, Fenugreek extract, Garcinia extract, Phyllanthus, Mangostana extract, Coleus extract, Rosemary extract, Licorice extract, Senna extract, Green coffee extract, Black pepper extract, Turmeric extract, Moringa extract, Triphala extract etc., and analyze the products as per the specifications for export outside of India. We do analysis by HPLC, UV, Gravimetry and Titration. Analysis is done for above products for HCA, Catechins, Caffiene, Protodioscin, Diosgenin, Forskohlin, Piperine, Phyllanthin & Hypophylanthin, mangosteen, Chlorogenic acid, Curcuminoids, Rosemaric acid by respective methods.

It was a new experience for me. Since I was a senior chemist, I had more responsibilities. I was guiding my juniors regarding good laboratory practices and helping them in their work and quality of delivery.

I would be busy analyzing samples of various nutritional components. I am doing method validation for various components. It’s not an easy task.

Along with my routine analysis, some R & D work will also be there. I improved my knowledge by doing trial and error and referring so many published articles.

After 2 years, I applied again for a job at Eurofins. They called me for an interview. I got selected. I joined as a Senior Chemist.

Eurofins is a company doing analytical testing. This is an entirely different field as compared with my previous companies. We were analyzing all kinds of food products eg: Juice, Parota, Spice, Noodles, Rice, Grapes, Sugar products, Oils, Fish, Chicken, Beverages, Chocolates etc.,

Here, I worked as acting team leader. Food products were analyzed by AOAC (Association of Official Analytical Chemist) and IS (International Standards) method. My role in Eurofins was to analyze complicated products, monitor trainee chemists and verify reports. My major concern was on cholesterol, fatty acids and other components related to GC (Gas Chromatography). Sometimes we were doing R& D on various samples that we were getting from other companies. Trial and errors would be there while doing R&D, scientifically called Method Validation and development.

I worked for 2 years in Eurofins. Then I got an opportunity in The Himalaya Drug Company.

Where do you work now?

Currently I am working for The Himalaya Drug company. My expertise is in Gas Chromatography, analyzing the various herbal products.

Typical uses of Gas Chromatography (GC) include testing the purity of a particular substance, or separating the different components of a mixture (the relative amounts of such components can also be determined). In some situations, GC may help in identifying a compound. In preparative chromatography, GC can be used to prepare pure compounds from a mixture

Gas chromatography is a common type of chromatography where inert gas in used in the mobile phase. The principle behind this is that the mixture will separate into individual substances when it is heated. The heated gases are carried through a column with an inert gas. When it has reaches the flame it will ignite and compounds are eluted out based on molecular weight detected.   

Initially we do the method validation of the products and we will provide the specification. We will follow the analysis accordingly.

We do only raw material analysis. For eg: Eucalyptus oil (1,8 Cineole content (Eucalyptol))

How does your work benefit the society?

I am proud to be a food analyst. As a chemist, I am analyzing various products so that I can minimize the food adulteration by giving diplomatic results. It’s not only about artificial colours, flavours etc., it includes pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics, toxins. You might be aware that the skin will also absorb pesticides even in ppm level.

Food analysis plays an important role in food safety. For each and every food product, there will be a standard specification. For eg. Nutritional composition viz., Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein, Sugar etc., Not only for nutritional composition, but also additives like preservatives, artificial colours, flavours etc., should also have a minimum and maximum level . We have to meet specifications for Indian and International standards for each and every food products. The foods which are available in markets need to meet those specifications. If the foods fail to meet specifications, it is not allowed to sell in market.

As per WHO (World Health Organization) and other health organisations, we have a diet chart for every age and height. Diet is not only for those who are trying to lose weight, it is for everyone, to lead a healthy life style. As per health organisations, one should have minimum level of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and sugar in their diet or in their food. But how can we take a balanced diet without knowing the composition of our food. Thats where food analysis helps in understanding which food matrix contains how much carbohydrate, energy, protein, fat etc. For eg. Rice is rich in carbohydrates (around 75%), pulses are rich in protein, oil seeds and nuts (ground nut, cashews, badam, pista) are rich in fats. 

Kidney patients are suggested not to take tomato’s due to its high salt content. Likewise diabetic patients are not allowed to take sugary products, women are suggested to take high calcium and iron rich food products. If we know which food product contains what content (carbohydrates, protein, fat etc.,) then it will be easy for us to adopt a diet according to our requirement.

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

I am analyzing various nutritional and herbal products. In that cholesterol and fatty acids are one of my areas. This analysis is tricky. I like to handle critical work. It’s somehow close to me.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

One should know basic chemistry behind each analysis. People who wish to get into this field should have some practical lab skills rather than theory.

Students should choose their field carefully in the initial stage itself. Everyone will typically like some particular area (subject). If you like a subject it means you will be enjoying studies. Similarly, if you are in your own interesting field, you can put more effort to learn and you will be enjoying the work otherwise you will struggle for each and everything. Unfortunately, if you join a company and if you think that there is no growth, just leave the company and search for another. Don’t stick over there. Stay at home, improve yourself and move to where you have interested. Don’t go behind of money. Money can come anytime. Improve yourself and move wherever you want.

Future Plans?

I am planning to do Ph.D. in either nutrition or natural products. I wanted to become a Manager in reputed company. I am interested to do business. Nowadays, I have started concentrating in business too.