Indonesian people’s consumption of supplements and multivitamins during the Covid-19 pandemic has increased. The increase also affects the surge in the need for capsule-packaged supplements and multivitamins. The capsules of interest are in the form of capsule shells or soft capsules. The need for soft capsules alone reaches three billion pellets per year, of which 90% are still dominated by animal gelatin.

High use of gelatin in soft capsules can actually be substituted with the use of vegetable-based ingredients that can be found in seaweed plants as the basic ingredients. Moreover, Indonesia is the world’s second largest seaweed producer after China, with an export volume of 195,574 tons in 2020 with a value of USD 279.58 million (data from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries).

Seeing the abundance of raw materials available and great potential of seaweed, the research team from the Center for Agroindustrial Technology (PTA) of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) decided to conduct applied research for value-added products from seaweed, namely development of seaweed-based soft capsules.

In December 2021, BRIN research team finally managed to find the right formulation for use in an industrial scale. The team has succeeded in producing the desired soft capsule prototype.

BRIN PTA researcher Taufik Hidayat said that his team succeeded in producing soft capsules with high elasticity, good adhesion, no odor and no leaks.

Taufik, who has expertise in the technology of aquatic products, especially seaweed, was immediately entrusted with research on development of hard and soft capsules. In 2019, he also assisted in testing the stability of seaweed capsule shell for BPPT that has been successfully absorbed by the industry, namely PT Kapsulindo Nusantara.

“To obtain these characteristics, the team conducted a study related to the aspects of raw materials and formula compositions that can be used to produce soft capsules. Finally, a combination of carrageenan is found that is suitable for development on an industrial scale,” said Taufik, who completed his Bachelor and Masters degree program at the Department of Aquatic Product Technology, Bogor Institute of Agriculture.

He added that the advantages of using carrageenan are that it has high viscosity and elasticity, and is guaranteed to be halal for vegetarian consumers.

Taufik himself is optimistic about the results of research carried out by his team. He claims that this plant-based soft capsule will be more appropriate and optimal for wrapping active ingredients (capsule filling) which are also derived from plants, such as non-animal vitamins, herbs, herbal medicines, and phytopharmaca.

Soft Capsule Development Technology

The trend of vegan market and vegan community is now rising. Their number has even reached 70% of population in almost the entire Asia Pacific region, including Indonesia. “The trend of using soft capsules has also started and attract the industry players in the world. Large capsule industries in China even predict that by 2025 non-gelatin-based capsules will become one of the most profitable segments,” he said.

Continuous and sustainable research carried out by BRIN researchers is expected to produce seaweed soft capsules in accordance with the pharmacopoeial and BPOM standards so that they are ready to be commercialized and marketed to the public.

Taufik said that the manufacturing of soft capsules in Indonesia is advanced in technology, as the encapsulation and prototyping processes require good machines.

He explained that the manufacture of seaweed-based soft capsules started from optimization of lab-scale formulation carried out in the Agroindustrial Fisheries Processing lab, then continued with direct production at the plant location of industrial partners.

“Finding partners who are willing to develop soft capsules is not easy. We finally found a suitable partner and were challenged to develop this seaweed-based soft capsule,” said Arief. “Praise be to God, we have collaborated with PT Nova Chemie Utama (NCU) and we hope this collaboration will continue so that we can commercialize the products and enter the domestic and foreign markets,” he concluded (sas, arf, rvl/ ed: drs)