About this case study:
To help food businesses to understand some of the technologies which could impact food, we are building a series of case studies. These examples are at varying stages of development and their inclusion as case studies is not intended as an indication of the likelihood of their introduction to market. They serve simply to illustrate how technologies might be applied to food in the future. For more information visit Food and technology.
What is the benefit to consumers?
Addition of vitamins and minerals to foods through fortification enhances their nutritional value and helps consumers to achieve a healthy balanced diet. Scientific research is uncovering other micronutrients, including many from plants, which offer health benefits. However, fortification of foods and drinks with these nutrients may be difficult; they may be sensitive to the processes used in food production or have a short shelf life. In addition, as more is understood about how certain nutrients function in our bodies, mechanisms that allow them to be delivered to the intestine, and not broken down in the stomach, are increasingly sought. One such potential solution is described below.
How will it be achieved?
Delivery systems are required that protect sensitive micronutrients from damage during preparation or deterioration while on the shelf. This can be achieved by protecting the nutrient molecules in minute capsules made of other food materials such as proteins and starches. Encapsulation of nutrients in this way opens up the possibility to deliver fragile nutrients in a range of foods and drinks.
What could it be used for?
Researchers exploring this area recently reported addition to beverages of encapsulated vitamin D and a nutrient from green tea called epigallocatechin gallate1. Encapsulation meant that the nutrients were stable at the pH of the drink and did not deteriorate on shelf. A further benefit was the ability to add both water-insoluble nutrients to beverages without causing cloudiness, and to mask the taste of the nutrients so that they did not spoil the flavour of the drink.
In a model of digestion in the stomach, the researchers also showed that the encapsulated nutrients were able to survive the gastric environment and could potentially be delivered to the small intestine for uptake.
What is the technology?
Encapsulation is not a new technology, it has been used for many years, for example in the delivery of flavourings to products. However, in this instance the researchers used different food materials in a process of nano-encapsulation to produce nanoparticles of less than 30 nanometres in diameter. At this size, the nanoparticles were able to remain transparent and stable in the test beverages.
Is it on the market now?
Products made with the specific materials used by researchers in these studies are not yet on sale in Europe. They would first require regulatory approval as they would be considered novel. The regulatory process ensures that novel products and processes are safe.
1 Markman and Linvey (2012) Maillard-conjugate based core-shell co-assemblies for nanoencapsulation of hydrophobic nutraceuticals in clear beverages. Food & Function, 2012, 3, 262