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The cheese that kills, and other nutraceuticals

A couple of start-ups say medicinal foods can help world health and be a lifestyle accessory.

It will be delicious, nutritious, and kill tapeworms.

TyraTech, a green technology incubator, is developing a cheese that will be as nutritious as regular food but also kill intestinal parasites, according to CFO Keith Bigsby. The company has signed a deal with Kraft Foods to bring these functional foods to market. Kraft will pay the company engineering fees and, if products come out, royalties from sales. TyraTech is going to try to send me a glass of a drink they are working on for a taste test.

If you are reading this, you probably don't have a tapeworm, but nematodes and other worms remain a major health problem for 2 billion people living in rural Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

TyraTech's product is part of a wave of what some people call nutraceuticals. Basically, these companies produce foods that can provide enhanced nutrition or medicinal properties, according to according to Laurie Yoler, a partner at investment bank GrowthPoint Technology Partners, which recently started to work with companies in the field. While these products will likely be sold as foodstuffs and medical products in the emerging world, they will be largely be marketed as lifestyle products to people in Palo Alto.

Attune Foods, for instance, has come out with a shelf-stable energy bar containing probiotics, the healthy active cultures found in yogurt and acidophilus. Probiotics are big in Europe and Japan and have begun to penetrate the United States. Attune's CEO is Rob Hurlbut, who used to be the CEO of Niman Ranch, the famed producer of natural beef (i.e. no injections).

Attune wellness bars go down easier than suppositories. Mike Kanellos/CNET Networks

A chocolate bar with more active cultures than yogurt that costs less than $2? There are a hundred neurotic parents I can name that will line up to buy it now that they know it exists. It actually tastes good, too. After taking the picture at left, I wolfed down the company's cool mint chocolate wellness bar. There's a slightly different aftertaste than regular chocolate, but otherwise it goes down like regular chocolate. Ilya Nykin of Prolog Ventures, which invested in Attune, calls these products functional foods.

TyraTech is also working on biopesticides, which are natural pesticides made from microbes or in TyraTech's case essential plant oils. Organic farmers, and a growing number of conventional farmers, spray these on their crops rather than chemical fertilizer. The organic pesticides are safer for humans, advocates say, and can be sprayed closer to the time of harvest than conventional pesticides. Biopesticides also tend to be safer for field workers.

In the past, biopesticides were often snake oil solutions, according to people in the industry. But the killing power and effectiveness of these mixtures has greatly increased over the years while the price has come down. Other companies in biopesticides include AgraQuest and Marrone Organics.