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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Beverages continue to be the next frontier for marine ingredients. What progress have fish oil and algal-ingredient suppliers made?
Marine ingredients, such as those from fish and algae, are in an enviable position. Many have already found success in the dietary supplements space. The next opportunities are now in food and beverage, and as such, companies are now trying to drive a deeper stake in the food and beverages market.
Marine ingredients famously come with their own set of challenges, including stability concerns plus a fishy taste and aroma. But thanks to innovation by experts, these challenges are largely being overcome.
The beverage market is dynamic, and marine ingredients are catching the wave. Richard Staack PhD, MBA, vice president, research and commercial development, Prinova USA (Carol Stream, IL), says that consumers are already looking for omega-3 fortification for health benefits and are now turning to food and drinks to get it.
For instance, “Consumer demand is high for functional beverages made with fish oil,” Staack says. “The health benefit areas addressed by [omega-3 fatty acids] EPA and DHA are among the top trending consumer concerns, which include cognition, heart health, brain health, anti-inflammation, eye health, and joint health.”
According to Staack, “Recent data supports that 50% of U.S. consumers believe they do not get enough omega-3s in their diets, while 38% of consumers specifically seek out omega-3s in the purchase of food and beverages.” (Staack is citing 2017 figures from Innova Market Insights’ Innova Database.)
Beverages are also an ideal vehicle for customers such as children. Matt Phillips, vice president, business development, Bioriginal (Irvine, CA), points out that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is increasingly popular for infants and children in terms of brain development and cognitive support. “Fortifying beverages such as milk and juice is a natural fit for this ingredient. That’s because consumers already associate these beverages with health benefits and typically consume them regularly.”
He adds that “the other benefit with this route is twofold: it enables you to differentiate in categories that are largely commoditized, and secondly, it typically does not require extensive awareness education for the market to understand and embrace cognitive-health benefits incorporated into their milk or juice.”
Algal ingredients are also getting into beverages. Joe Kuncewitch, national sales manager, AstaReal Inc. (Burlington, NJ), says that, for instance, thanks to a special spray drying process, AstaReal astaxanthin (Haematococcus pluvialis) can be supplied in a water-dispersible powder called P2AF that can be incorporated in instant beverages. “The powder can be applied directly to liquid and mixed mechanically, or can be made into an effervescent tablet and added to the drink,” he says.
Spirulina blue-green algae is also getting into drinks. Beverage brand Smart Chimp launched its spirulina waters back in 2014. According to founder Benjamin Lacour, “The market is reacting in a good way.” Each Smart Chimp bottle contains 10 ml of fresh spirulina extract, which Lacour says is an efficacious dose to yield health benefits.
Vitamins and minerals derived from sea sources are also seeing greater appreciation in beverages. Aquamin is a branded ingredient gaining attention in the nutrition industry as a source of marine-derived minerals. The multi-mineral complex provides calcium, magnesium, and 72 other trace marine minerals because its source, seaweed, absorbs these trace minerals from seawater. According to the company, “Aquamin’s unique, porous honeycombed vegetative cell structure gives it a number of significant benefits, from its chemical behavior to its absorption.” It also is said to be formulated to offer superior taste, odor, color, and solubility.
“We typically find that Aquamin works especially well in fruit-based juices, fruit concentrates, and fruit preparation applications,” says David O’Leary, commercial manager of Marigot Ltd. (Cork, Ireland), the company that developed Aquamin. “In such applications, it can compete easily with dairy-based systems and other synthetic mineral sources-phosphates, lactates, etc. As it has a clean taste, is heat stable, and has a very good dispersion profile and clear solubility, it can be incorporated into all types of fruit beverage applications.” In addition to fruit beverages, O’Leary says the company has developed Aquamin grades for plant milks. The ingredient is also suited for water, smoothies, sports powders, sachets, stick packs, and gummies.
John Foley, applications scientist, BASF Nutrition & Health (Florham Park, NJ), says that in addition to its omega-3 ingredients, BASF has seen increased usage of its Betatene natural mixed carotenoids, derived from algae, in beverage formulations. “It performs well in beverages such as vitamin waters and juices, and fortifies with provitamin A from natural beta-carotene, which is preferred over adding straight vitamin A [because] the body will only covert the beta-carotene to the amount of vitamin A it needs,” he says.
Technologies to Make It Happen
All of this activity in the drinks space is great, but it didn’t happen overnight. Firms have worked consistently to evolve their marine ingredients in order to make them as efficacious and enjoyable as possible in a drink matrix.
Some of the famous challenges marine ingredients struggle with include a fishy taste and aroma. Stability can also be a challenge. Ingredients like fish oil and even astaxanthin are known to oxidize faster when exposed to air. Another challenge? Kuncewitch says that when working with astaxanthin in particular, “one challenge can be the vibrant red color that astaxanthin imparts to beverages and food.”
“Omega-3 fatty acid fortification of beverages in the past has always been limited to cloudy beverages that need refrigeration and typically have a shorter shelf life than desired,” says Prinova’s Staack. “In addition, avoiding an impact on taste, odor, appearance, texture, or a phase separation in the finished product has always been a challenge.”
Prinova has found its way to overcome these challenges. The company has partnered with Oceans Omega (Montvale, NJ), a company specializing in omega-3 ingredients for liquid applications, including for fish oil ingredients (EPA/DHA) and algae (DHA). Staack says the company’s proprietary omega-3 stabilizing technology “was designed for effectively protecting omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation in micro-emulsions. Additionally, the technology allows a quality omega-3 emulsion to retain excellent organoleptic properties throughout any beverage manufacturing process and is shelf-stable in functional beverages at ambient temperatures.” He says this allows for clear, transparent, shelf-stable omega-3–fortified beverages, including juices, teas, sports drinks, and functional waters. “Regarding the types of beverages that are better suited for fish oil ingredients, we find it works well in dairy products, apple juices, fruit juices, and flavored waters,” he adds.
BASF uses encapsulation to overcome omega-3 challenges and also to take ingredients a step further. “BASF has innovated an omega-3 ingredient encapsulated with dairy protein that contains 10%–13% EPA plus DHA, perfect for a heart-health-booster concept, as well as a similarly encapsulated high-DHA powder that is ideal for kids’ products,” Foley explains. “These ingredients have a two-year shelf life at room temperature and are suitable for use in dairy products, dry dairy-based beverage mixes, and nutrition bars.”
Bioriginal’s OmegaPure fish oil is refined to eliminate undesirable odors and taste, while retaining the nutritional benefits of EPA and DHA. Phillips says the ingredient can be included in foods and beverages, including milk, juice, and other ready-to-drink beverages, without impacting taste or flavor. It “does really well in refrigerated beverages,” he adds. “This is because the cooler temperature prolongs shelf life. In fact, we conducted in-house trials last year and found that when OmegaPure fish oil is used in beverages like milk, for example, consumers are either unable to discern a difference, or they prefer the fortified sample.”
Virun (Pomona, CA), is a company specializing in clear, water-soluble, shelf-stable solutions for ingredients like omega-3. One of its latest advancements is its Esolv emulsifier, which enables water-insoluble marine ingredients like EPA, DHA, and astaxanthin to become water soluble or dispersible.
“Esolv is an emulsifier that is a natural vitamin E oil we polymerize through natural emulsification into water and then remove all the free polymer as well as water. The end Esolv, being that it was emulsified into water, retains its polar properties and becomes what is called ‘amphiphilic,’ which forms micelles,” says Philip Bromley, CEO of Virun (Pomona, CA). The result is also clean label, since vitamin E is used as the excipient, he adds.
Virun is using this technology not only to get fish oil EPA/DHA ingredients into beverages; it’s doing the same for astaxanthin. Thanks to a partnership with Israel-based astaxanthin supplier Algatechnologies Ltd., Virun used Esolv technology to create a water-soluble version of Algatechnologies’ AstaPure astaxanthin ingredient. “Pouches, 2-oz shots, multi-serving smoothies, as well as finished beverages all have been successfully developed and, in many instances, commercialized,” Bromley says.
Just as with fish oil, challenges like taste, texture, and solubility are common to algae-based ingredients. Luckily, suppliers are working on solutions. In addition to its P2AF water-dispersible astaxanthin powder, AstaReal utilizes an emulsification process called Clear 100 to produce a water-soluble liquid form of AstaReal astaxanthin. It can be used to incorporate astaxanthin into beverages, as well as gummies, jellies, and candies. “It dissolves to produce a completely clear astaxanthin liquid,” Kuncewitch says.
And when developing Smart Chimp’s spirulina water, Lacour says he tested numerous recipes before arriving at the final formula. “That was a real challenge all the way,” he says. “I probably tested hundreds of recipes in my kitchen to reach the perfect taste. Microalgae are very strong in taste, and the texture could be a little thick depending on the concentration, so we had to come out with an extraction process to get rid of the taste and keep the benefits at the same time. But the most difficult part was definitely to stabilize the formula, which we did with a partner lab here in France.”
BASF’s Foley has an important tip for those dabbling in omega-3 fortification. In addition to “controlling your process” and limiting exposure to heat and oxygen, he says, “the greatest challenge in fortification is knowing your fortification limit (typically 30-75 mg EPA and DHA per serving).” Some companies also still recommend that beverages containing their marine ingredients be refrigerated after opening.
More in Store
While this article focuses largely on the beverage space, make no mistake that these same companies are also expanding into increasingly varied-and creative-food uses for their marine ingredients. Here is just a sampling.
Bioriginal’s Phillips says that OmegaPure can be included in desserts, baked goods, condiments, cheeses, and bars. It also blends well in frozen treats like ice cream. In fact, the company says, OmegaPure even has the ability to improve the mouthfeel of these products.
Prinova’s Staack says the Oceans Omega stabilizing technology helped produce a commercial omega-3–fortified gelatin product with 32 mg of DHA per cup. “Other food products that are ideal for omega-3 fortification with this technology and have not seen much innovation over the years include gummy bears, applesauce, and gelatins,” he adds.
BASF’s Foley says, “Refrigerated dairy products that are low in fat and flavored, such as low-fat chocolate milk or fruit yogurt, are great candidates for omega-3 fortification.” Nutrition bars, as well as high-fat products like peanut butter, margarine, and salad dressing, are also ideal opportunities, he says.
Bromley says that Virun continues to “focus on even crazier concepts,” including an omega-3 EPA/DHA butter, astaxanthin red raspberry waffles (“with yummy EPA/DHA beadlets inside that taste like raspberry jam–infused berries”), and pancakes with 300 mg of DHA per pancake.
The bottom line is that marine ingredients can’t ignore the growing food and beverage market if they want to increase their exposure. “Mainstream foods and dietary supplements have got to be focus areas for producers of marine/algae-based ingredients,” says Marigot’s O’Leary. “So much opportunity exists, which with some innovation and product development focused on optimizing the critical areas of taste, color, and solubility, can achieve so much and present real alternatives for food companies that are actively looking to improve the nutritional impact of their finished food products.”
What about Krill?
Is krill oil getting in on all this food and beverage action? Not quite yet, according to krill oil specialist Aker BioMarine Antarctic (Oslo, Norway).
“Due to a history of technical limitations, as well as price, krill oil just hasn’t found life in foods and beverages like other omega-3 sources have,” says Becky Wright, marketing director, Aker BioMarine. “I don’t necessarily think it is more difficult” to include krill oil in food and beverage, she adds. “I just don’t think there has been a justification yet to explore these types of applications.”
But that’s not to say that krill oil couldn’t make its way into those products one day. “Now that krill oil has become the second-largest commercially available source of omega-3s EPA/DHA, I think many companies, including ours, will start pursuing this market more strongly in the future,” Wright says. “The application of omega-3s EPA/DHA from marine sources, mainly algae and fish oil, has had some success in foods and beverages. And given their success, we are confident that krill oil will also have a place in this market in the coming years.”