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  • Food technologists at the Riddet Institute are developing product prototypes of functional foods with microencapsulated fish oil added. Here, we explain why prototypes are important.

    Microencapsulated fish oil is a liquid emulsion that is added to food during the manufacturing process to increase its omega-3 levels. The emulsion is marketed to food manufacturers.

    Food technologists at the Riddet Institute developed a range of prototype food products to prove the effectiveness of the emulsion. So why are they continuing to develop new product prototypes with the emulsion added?

    The purpose of the prototypes

    There are two key reasons the food prototypes are important:

    • Examples for industry – to show the food industry that microencapsulated fish oil can be added to different products. When they develop a new product, they take samples to trade shows so industry personnel can see and taste it for themselves.
    • Optimising manufacture – to develop guidelines for adding the microencapsulated fish oil to different foods. The guidelines show food industries when and how to use the emulsion. The food technologists consider this a critical part of the development.

    Deciding what new products to develop

    Researchers consider a number of factors when deciding on new food products to add fish oil to:

    • Recommended daily amount – getting omega-3 into the daily diet of consumers by targeting foods that are eaten regularly, such as bread and milk.
    • Profit – profit margins are important for manufacturers, so foods that sell in higher volumes are more likely to interest the food industry.
    • Baked, liquid or frozen – testing it in different product formats such as baked, liquid and frozen foods means they can apply the same formula to other foods of the same format without testing every individual food. For example, testing it in a baked food such as muffins means they can assume similar results in bread and other baked foods.
    • Cost – keeping the cost down by avoiding premium, high-priced products will help make it accessible to more people.
    • Shelf life – foods with a shorter shelf life are more suitable because omega-3 is prone to oxidation. Foods normally eaten within a week or a month like bread, milk and muffins have less chance of the omega-3 being oxidised.
    • Choice – getting omega-3 into a wide variety of foods so there is more choice for consumers.

    Testing in different foods

    When adding the emulsion to foods, the original food product needs to look, feel and taste the same, so food technologists test how the emulsion is affected by the food, how it is processed and how it is stored.

    They need to ensure the layer protecting the fish oil from oxidation is not destroyed at any of the food manufacturing stages. For some foods, they may modify the emulsion or change some of the variables in the manufacturing process. It is an iterative process of trialling and adapting until the ideal formulation is achieved.

    Regulations affect labelling

    Food labels must state there is fish oil in the product. To claim a health benefit on the label, the product must contain a certain level of omega-3.

    Future possibilities for the technology

    The Riddet Institute is always developing new ideas. Some future possibilities for the microencapsulation technology include:

    • a powder that can be added to more foods.
    • single-serve sachets in powder or liquid form, so consumers can mix it into food and drinks
    • encapsulating other nutrients and pharmaceuticals.
      Published 17 July 2009 Referencing Hub articles
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