It has been established that a natural, plant-based food supplement can provide more benefits to our bodies than a conventional isolated synthetic vitamin supplement, due to the other compounds surrounding the vitamin within the plant matrix that work in synergy to boost the effects. However, when naturally supplementing vitamins, minerals and herbs, there is some variation in the manufacturing processes that can impact the benefit you are receiving.

There are two main ways in which a manufacturer may convert a whole fruit or herb into the capsule, liquid, or tablet form of supplement you take: by producing a powder, or an extract. Within extraction, either liquids or extract powders can be formed depending on the technique used and for which type of end product. They both have the benefit of retaining the natural composition of the whole food, but in a more compact and convenient form.

How are powders produced?

A powdered supplement is manufactured in a similar way for both fruits and herbs and is a relatively simple process. The herb input may include stems and/or roots, and leaves, as well as the plant itself, whereas with fruit the pulp is used in the process of spray drying, in which high heat rapidly evaporates the water content until a dry product remains. This is then ground down into a finely milled powder which can be used in supplements [1].

This is a significantly more beneficial method of sourcing vitamins than the synthetic route as it leaves behind the full spectrum of compounds that naturally occur within the plant. The same is true for herbs, and you can experience the synergistic effects of everything working in harmony in a similar way to consuming a whole food, only with added convenience. Due to the simple process, powders are also usually inexpensive to produce.

How are extracts produced?

In an extract, the key compounds are focused on, as opposed to including an entire plant with other unnecessary inactive compounds. This process typically involves a solvent, such as water if suitable for halal followers, or alcohol (ethanol), which are used to draw out these beneficial compounds, such as vitamins or phytochemicals. Generally, the plant or fruit is soaked and softened in the solvent and gently heated to produce a liquid of a desired concentration where the insoluble plant residue can be removed [2]. The resulting product will be either a watery extract, or a tincture, if alcohol was the solvent used which retains the active compounds in a high quantity.

As these are both liquids, a further process is necessary to produce the powdered extracts found in tablets or capsules. This is known as spray drying, where the liquid is dehydrated to evaporate the solvent, leaving only solid powder to remain. Powdered extracts are even more concentrated than liquid extracts, as they require a much smaller quantity to provide identical effects. Extraction can still produce a full spectrum supplement, containing all the necessary compounds to produce health benefits, only without the additional inactive elements that bulk out the quantity of ingredient needed as in a powder. You may find yourself paying slightly more for a supplement containing fruit and herbal extracts because of the more complex process required, and the higher quality of a more refined product.

Which is better?

Although a powdered extract and a powder may seem very similar, given their similar appearance, it is important to note the differences between them when it comes to consumption. The primary difference is that due to the beneficial compounds having been separated from any excess material during extraction, the resulting product is much smaller than as found in a standard powder. In these powders, indigestible plant fibre is also present which reduces its potency. This means that a much smaller dose of an extract is required to experience the same effects as when consuming a powder. It also results in easier absorption, as the insoluble plant material is removed which bypasses the time needed for digestion.

Extracts are also more commonly subjected to standardisation processes, which means that they are tested to ensure that certain chemical compounds are present and at the expected levels. This makes certain that you will receive the benefits of, for example, a maintained immune system and healthy skin and bones that you expect when consuming vitamin C naturally sourced from amla in your supplement. With the standardisation of herbs, a specific active ingredient may be extracted and added in higher quantities to a full spectrum extract to provide maximum efficacy, such as in KSM-66 Ashwagandha containing 5% withanolides.

Both powders and extracts provide a better source of your essential vitamins and minerals than their synthetic counterparts, but an extract ensures that you are consuming the highest quality source without any unnecessary additions. The smaller amount needed for identical benefits also means that extract-based supplements often come in a tasteless, easy to swallow capsule.

Check out our SimplyGREEN Organic Immunity Goals and SimplyGREEN Pro Brain Health Goals, containing Ashwagandha extract, Amla fruit extract, and more.