Paige Shumate Short twirls the raw blackberry in her fingers. Here, she said, is a powerhouse of berry power: antiviral, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, cancer-suppressing and wound-healing.
Her Four Tigers berry care company started with the blackberries produced on Windstone Farms, just east of Paris, by her late father, Wayne Shumate.
One day, Short was passing a TV in her den and saw a report about University of Kentucky researchers working with black raspberries.
Nonsense, she thought: Why not blackberries?
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That's how the research relationship got started between Short and her business partner, Russell Mumper, the vice dean of the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Mumper previously worked for the University of Kentucky, where his primary research work was in nanotechnology, the process of manipulating atoms and molecules to create microminiature equipment.
Since June, Short's company has begun stocking its debut product, gums — BerryCare Toothpaste Gum and BerryCare's Quick Energy Gum — at regional Kroger stores. The toothpaste gum contains 50 milligrams of blackberry powder with its associated polyphenols — chemicals that affect cell-to-cell signaling, inflammatory enzyme activity or gene regulation. That's about as much polyphenol as in nearly a cup of blackberries, Short said.
The gums apparently are the first chewing products to be certified Kentucky Proud — which involves products being grown, processed and manufactured in Kentucky.
The Shumate-Short clan is doing well with its blackberries, said Kristin Branscum, executive director of the office of marketing for the Kentucky agriculture department, but they're the only ones marketing fruit with healthy antioxidant properties.
"Our blueberry growers down in Metcalfe County are really doing a bang-up job," Branscum said. The growers are selling seeds, plants, fruit, books and gift items. For more information on the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association, go to Blueberrygrowers.com.
The blackberry BerryCare energy gum contains 40 milligrams of caffeine in addition to its blackberry powder.
However, that's just the beginning of the possibilities forecast for blackberries by Short and her son Bryan Shumate Short, who helps her run the business, headquartered at the Coldstream Research Park.
She and her pharmacy specialist, Joshua Eldridge, are looking beyond gum into other ways to deliver those blackberry phenols, by lozenge or by a tiny film the size of a contact lens that dissolves in the mouth.
In the future, Short envisions cosmetics and skin-care products that capitalize on the natural sunscreen in blackberries. Her company also wants to figure out what to do with the seeds that are left over after the blackberries are pureed. Stalks from blackberry plants can be used for fiber that's similar to hemp, Short said.
Blackberries are picked or bought from other growers and brought to the research park laboratory and office to be processed. A freezer gives off the smell of a field of frozen blackberries, pureed and frozen; when it's time to process the blackberries, they are moved to a nearby refrigerator.
In a world obsessed with healthful living, fruits are often marketed for their health benefits in an increasingly crowded market: Just flipping through the October 2013 issue of Psychology Today yields an article on the health benefits of cranberries headlined "The Smart of Tart" for their ability to stop age-related decline in memory. A few pages later the yuzu — a fruit that looks like the mating of an orange with a cauliflower — is touted as possibly the next superfruit for its benefits to brain neurons and its antioxidant whammy.
Four Tigers is seeking FDA approval to test an oral care product with a higher concentration of blackberry powder at the University of Kentucky. If approved for sale as a botanical drug, the blackberry product would be only the second botanical drug in history. The first was green tea, which has a lukewarm approval from the FDA, which says that it might reduce the risk of breast or prostate cancer, although "the FDA has concluded that there is very little scientific evidence for this claim."
The Shumates and Shorts have an extensive manufacturing history in Central Kentucky. Paige Shumate Short's father, who died in 2005, turned a hobby blackberry farm into Windstone Farms, the largest blackberry operation east of the Mississippi.
Shumate also was the man behind Blue Grass Industries, which would later become Kentucky Textiles Inc., which made Speedo swimwear in Paris.
"There's a little part of him in it," Shumate Short said of her father's legacy to her blackberry business. "We still believe the way he did — that there's opportunities in blackberries."
Four Tigers LLC blackberry-derived products