A cheap, user-friendly, and robust paper-based device that can be used by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in determining the total polyphenol content (TPC) of tea-based beverages – specifically, sweet potato leaf extract (SPLE)-based tea beverage products - was developed by researchers from the University of the Philippines.

In their study on “Paper-based Device for the Detection and Quantification of Total Polyphenols in Plant-based Beverages for Potential Use in Quality Assurance Purposes,” a team of researchers saw the need for local manufacturers to assess the polyphenol content of their product to ensure food quality. Since such assessment devices are often costly, the team developed a similar device which can be both reliable and affordable for the SMEs.

“Without proper quality control, these enterprises are unable to export their products. That’s why there is a need to develop an inexpensive, robust, and easy to-use quantification technique that SMEs may use to ascertain TPC in their products,” Riann Martin Sarza, one of the researchers, said.

Polyphenols are compounds known for their health benefits, such as protection against heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. It also aids in maintaining good digestion. And because the health benefits from polyphenols are commonly found in plants, market demand is increasing and so is the steady increase in the manufacture of polyphenol-rich, plant-based food products, especially beverages.

This paper-based device (PBD) developed by our Filipino researchers can be an alternative to the conventional TCP instruments. These PBDs can provide analysis while offering the advantages of simplicity in terms of fabrication and use, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility to users.

The SMEs and some large businesses sector in the Philippines often get discouraged from conducting proper quality control of their food products because the instruments used to determine TPC can be expensive, complex, time-consuming, and requires the skills of a trained analyst.

However, based on this research, the PBD not only matches the performance of its counterpart instrumental device, but also exhibited that it is not prone to interferences caused by sugars and ascorbic acid. Further, under refrigerated storage conditions, the integrity of the PBD is kept intact and remains functional up to 57 days.

“While the features of the PBD may still be improved, given its current performance, it can already be used in the quality control process of SMEs,” Cynthia Gregorio, another researcher, said.

The simplicity, robustness, and inexpensiveness of the PBD ensure that the SMEs will have a cheap and accessible option to ascertain the quality of their products. Currently, the device is limited to the analysis of total polyphenols in SPLE-based and other tea-based beverages. Thus, the potential of the PBD to help improve the quality of beverage products sold commercially is big and will definitely benefit consumers.

The full discussion of this study, which was funded by Science Education Institute (SEI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD)- DOST, can be accessed for free from the Philippine Journal of Science (PJS), February 2022 issue. PJS is the oldest science journal in the country, published by the Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII). (Geraldine Bulaon Ducusin, DOST-STII)