health mind and body

Can herb-infused chocolate solve prediabetes?


In 1987, I went backpacking across Japan during its famous cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, I suffered from terrible allergies and my nose was running like a faulty faucet. In desperation, I took a bullet train to the foothills of Mount Fuji to visit a Japanese healer who was studying traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

The practitioner prescribed a bunch of foul-smelling herbs and roots, which I was instructed to brew into a tea every night. The herbs stunk to high heaven, and it wasn’t always easy to find an open kitchen in backpacker hostels.

When I moved on to other parts of Southeast Asia, I couldn’t source the herbs and eventually I returned to that old standby, antihistamine pills.

Ehud (Udi) Peretz, CEO of Netanya-based startup Solveat, had a similar problem.

He was managing an herbal biotech company in China when he was diagnosed not with allergies but with prediabetes. Prof. Xia Long, a well-known local Chinese doctor, advised him to take herbal medicine.

While this method did bring Peretz’s condition under control, he found the herbs strikingly bitter and too much work to prepare.

What if those herbs could be integrated into a functional food that would be more convenient and less bitter tasting?

The market for functional foods is worth $250 billion, Peretz tells ISRAEL21c, and it’s growing by 8 percent a year. The segment of the market for phytochemicals (substances produced by plants) is worth some $5 billion.

Peretz returned to Israel and brought his vision to the Trendlines Group of food and med-tech accelerators in Israel’s northern Galilee. Trendlines and the Israel Innovation Authority subsequently invested $980,000 in the company.

Solveat’s first product combines medicinal herbs into chocolate squares from boutique Israeli chocolatier Ornat.

“The taste of the herbs is awful,” Peretz admits. “We use several methods to mask the bitterness and sourness. It’s not easy. Believe me, I have been dealing with this for four years!”

Ornat’s CEO, Yair Darel, is a partner in Solveat. Pharmacist Zakhar (Zacki) Nudelman is head of business development. Tel Aviv-based traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Tal Naveh is active in the company, as is Long.

Among the first volunteers who tried the herb-infused chocolates, including Peretz, blood sugar levels dropped by up to 24 percent. Given that 88 million Americans — some one-third of the adult US population — are prediabetic, this represents a potentially significant addition to the diabetes toolkit.

Unlike sugar-free or low-glycemic foods that reduce carbs, Solveat claims to actively reduce blood sugar. Clinical studies are underway.

Solveat is now working on integrating herbs into cookies, crackers and bread, and is doing research on other high-impact medical conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The company’s next product will be an immune booster made from functional ingredients, Peretz says.

Peretz says that using chocolate is ironic. “This is what I was told not to eat! But if you make chocolate without using sugar and the right amount of cocoa, it’s healthy. We want to provide a diet for the consumer so that he or she can live a normal life and enjoy food. We all know that if the food is not delicious, you won’t consume it.”

Solveat’s main competitor is the French company Valbiotis, which has a strategic partnership with Nestlé. Most of the big food conglomerates, including Pepsi, Unilever and Mars, are looking into how to get into the functional foods field, Peretz points out.

Although Solveat, by contrast, is just getting started, Peretz is bullish on the company’s future.

“We can’t claim we will be able to cure diabetes. This is not a drug. But we can claim to help maintain a healthy blood sugar level,” he says.