Cosmetics from ‘tahong,’ anyone?

“Tahong,” or green mussel, is among the favorite food in the Philippines. It is eaten in soups, baked, grilled, or sautéed, and many others.

It is a cheap source of protein, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.

Green mussel is one of the emerging aquatic commodities that is seen to contribute to the economic output of the fisheries sector in the country.

Tahong can be found in many areas in the country, such as in Bacoor Bay up to the entire Manila Bay from Cavite to Bataan, along the coast of Northern Luzon, Lingayen Gulf, Quezon and in Bicol region, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on its web site.

It is also in Batangas Bay, Banate Bay in Iloilo, in Negros Occidental, around Catbalogan and Western Samar, Northern Leyte and Palawan.

Its commercial farming are concentrated along the coast of Bulacan, Capiz, Cavite, Pangasinan, Sorsogon and Negros Occidental, FAO added.

However, mussel production is faced with the challenge of perennial occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that cause red tide. This situation encouraged the research on non-food applications of mussel.

According to Dr. Leni Yap-Dejeto of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV)-Tacloban Mussel Research Team, HABs displace fisherfolk for months and recorded economic losses that can reach P250 million per occurrence of HAB,

In the province of Samar in Region VIII alone, P49 million is derived annually from the tahong industry, Yap-Dejeto added.

It should also be noted that Eastern Visayas bays had been infested with HABs for nearly five years and were only completely red tide-free in early February, the Philippine News Agency reported.

Mussel glycogen project

With this situation, besides using mussel as food, a project has recently used food-grade mussel glycogen extracts in the development of cosmetic products.

The project, led by Yap-Dejeto, is titled, “Extraction and Utilization of Mussel Glycogen under the Mussel Biotechnology Program.”

It was implemented by the UPV-Tacloban Campus, in collaboration with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology.

Yap-Dejeto said that two other mussels, black mussel (Mytella strigata) and the brown mussel (Modiolus philippinarum), were included in the study.

Alternative source of livelihood

In an e-mail interview with the BusinessMirror, Yap-Dejeto said the project used not only tahong with HABs.

“We can also use mussels without HABs. Mussels are still whole when we extract the glycogen,” she said.

She explained that the mussels can still be used for food even minus the extracted glycogen, which are actually added calories. Thus, mussels without glycogen can be labeled as low-calorie mussels, she said.

Yap-Dejeto said the project is an alternative source of livelihood for farmers, especially with their livelihood affected by HABs infestation.

She noted that “mussels can still be harvested even with red tide ban, as long as this is not used as food, but as cosmetics.” But farmers should get a special permit for this from their local government unit or from Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Glycogen in cosmetics

Cosmetic products—such as cream, ointment and soap—from food grade glycogen extracts and a laboratory grade glycogen for biotechnology purposes were formulated by her team, Yap-Dejeto said.

The lab-grade glycogen was proven to be effective as a carrier in nucleic acid extraction when used in standard polymerase chain reaction techniques.

Yap-Dejeto said the glycogen in the cosmetic products mainly acts as moisturizer.

“This is also effective as a carrier for certain vitamins and minerals for the skin, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin compared to oils,” she said.

She added: “Thus, for example if you want more Vitamin E or D delivered to your skin cells, then addition of glycogen will be a good conduit for those vitamins to reach the skin cells.”

When asked if human trials were already made, she said its was done yet with the cosmetics the research team has created.

“We tested this only on artificial skin. We will be doing human trials soon. Or if investors are willing, they can fund this part of the research,” she said.

High prospects: Export of glycogen or high-end cosmetics

Yap-Dejeto pointed out that “prospects for the project are high.”

She said mussel glycogen is being produced outside the country from blue mussels and oysters.

“We still have to import mussel glycogen as of the moment,” she said.

“But with this project, we won’t be importing anymore. Instead, we would have the possibility of exporting our glycogen abroad, or we produce high-end local cosmetics for export,” Yap-Dejeto explained.

To support the project in terms of its marketability, a feasibility study on the market operations—such as in production, organization and management of the developed glycogen—found that it is feasible to manufacture the products.

Yap-Dejeto said results of the financial analysis were very encouraging with the 193.95 percent Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and 1.70 Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR).

The IRR is the expected growth rate of an investment per year (average 22 percent), while the BCR is the correlation of the relative costs versus the benefits of a proposed project in which a value greater than 1.0 will mean a positive net present value.

Image credits: Paulo Hipe, UPV-Tacloban