The Future Impact of Nanoingredients

Nanoingredients will have a profound impact on raw material sourcing for food processing and will radically change how foods affect our physiology.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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The Electronic Tongue?
Kraft Foods and NanoteK researchers are moving beyond ingredient applications of nanotechnology to develop the "electronic tongue." Intended initially for inclusion in packaging, this array of nanosensors serves as an indicator of chemical changes. Kraft plans to incorporate the electronic tongue into foods to release accurately controlled amounts of the suitable molecules to tailor the smell, taste and goodness of the product for the individual consumer.

There are several advantages to using nanocapsules. Formulators can have higher dose-loading with smaller dose volumes for a more attractive nutrition and ingredient panel. Nutrients are protected from degradation during storage for better shelf life and handling cost. Higher bioavailability eliminates the common practice of adding more to compensate for processing-related dissipation.

For ingredient suppliers, nanotechnology offers many opportunities. Volatile flavors often in liquid form can be transformed into a powder, which generally is easier to handle. Active flavors that may interact with the other food ingredients can be stabilized for longer product shelf life.

Nanocapsules helped Chicago-based Nu-Mega ( and Clover Corp. incorporate tuna fish oil, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, into Tip-Top Up bread in western Australia. Nu-Mega claims the nanocapsules open only when they have reached the stomach, thus avoiding the unpleasant taste of the fish oil.

Encapsulation technologies can deliver strong taste, but taste is often unevenly distributed.

"You may have a strong burst of taste from a big capsule, but you won't have the same burst of taste throughout," says Qingrong Huang, a food scientist at Rutgers University (, New Brunswick, N.J. "Nano particles are more interactive. They cover more of the tongue."

Note to Marketing

Nanotechnology is an exciting technology but so leading-edge that it may take some time for consumers to accept it. Several food processors who are using the technology asked not to be identified in this story for fear of consumer backlash. So consider these points:

  • Identify the comfort level of your target consumers.  The term nano may fall under the "biotech syndrome."
  • Understand the implications of current nanoscale applications - insist on education from your supplier on the safety of the ingredient.
  • When appropriate, sell the benefits.  But don't oversell.
  • Label cautiously and honestly. If the consumer believes nanotechnology cannot benefit him, then label products so the consumer can avoid them.

Bioavailability of potentially healthful micronutrients that are commonly lost in the gastrointestinal tract can be enhanced similarly with nanotechnology, Huang says. Teas, cranberry juice, blueberry juice, and wine are but a few of the beverages that might deliver on their health promise in nano form.

"It's hard to absorb the tea components," says Huang, "but with nano particles, their availability will be much better. You don't want to wait until you have a problem with obesity or cancer or heart disease. You want to prevent them from occurring. We are working on a beverage product with active ingredients from tea, blueberry and grapes that can improve your health and help prevent disease."

Whereas nanocapsules are carriers composed of an oil core surrounded by a polymeric wall, nanospheres consist of a polymeric matrix with several phases in suspension.

Nanospheres of omega-3 oils have very low surface oil (less than 0.5 percent) at very high payloads (40­50 percent) compared to 1-3 percent surface oil and 20 percent payload of some conventional spray-dried particles using hydrocolloids or starch and other microcapsule forms of omega-3.

Flavor manufacturers find the moisture-sensitive matrix provides excellent retention of flavors that tend to be highly volatile, especially over an extended period of time. The technology also minimizes flavor fade during product shelf life. Encapsulant hydrophobicity prevents the encapsulated bitter ingredients from going into solution and interacting directly with taste receptors.

Olala Foods (, Northbrook, Ill., designed nanospheres to be dissolved by saliva and shear, delaying the release of nano-encapsulated cocoa butter in Olala's Chocola chocolate chewing gum. Michael Gurin, the inventor, explained that nanocapsules also created a creamy texture in the gum without affecting its stability.

Flavor manufacturers can encapsulate and stabilize citral (the lemon flavor used in many Key lime formulations) at the pH of fruit juices for release in the mouth upon drinking. Because hydrophobic nanospheres are temperature-sensitive, they are ideal for releasing active ingredients and flavors when a drink or soup is heated.

An electronmicrograph of a vitamin A micelle shows it to be smaller than 50 nm, its size making it more easily absorbed by the body.
An electronmicrograph of a vitamin A micelle shows it to be smaller than 50nm, its size making it more easily absorbed by the body.

Invisible in the market, too

"Every major food corporation has a program in nanotechnology or is looking to develop one," according to Jozef Kokini, director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers University. In fact, nanotechnology ingredients already are appearing in food.

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