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In their quest to create tasty foods and beverages enriched with omega-3s, food technologists, like salmon, have had to swim against the current. The taste of omega-3 fatty acids has been a key stumbling block. Recently, however, manufacturers have been employing several strategies to develop new products.
In their quest to create tasty foods and beverages enriched with omega-3s, food technologists, like salmon, have had to swim against the current. The taste of omega-3 fatty acids has been a key stumbling block. Recently, however, manufacturers have been employing several strategies to develop new products. Specialized coatings, enzymes, and equipment can mask the taste of omega-3s and extend their shelf life. Moreover, alternative sources of omega-3s can eliminate the taste of fish entirely. Over the course of the past few years, manufacturers have been experimenting with a variety of approaches.
The result has been an array of new product launches. In 2005, for instance, manufacturers unveiled milk, yogurt, breads, tortillas, and even candy that contained omega-3s. Thanks to new technology, the tale of the omega-3 product that actually tastes good is no longer just a fish story.
COATINGS AND ADDITIVES
Food manufacturers often use coatings and additives because they provide several functional benefits. A popular strategy for omega-3s is to administer coatings through microencapsulation, which surrounds active ingredients with a protective shell. The Wright Group’s (Crowley, LA) SuperCoat technology, for instance, can be used on a number of hard-to-handle ingredients, including omega-3s.
Ocean Nutrition Canada’s (Dartmouth, NS, Canada) MEG-3, a free-flowing omega-3 powder that remains shelf-stable for 12 months, is another example of microencapsulation. In 2005, food manufacturers used MEG-3 in no less than three new product releases. At last year’s SupplySide West in Las Vegas, which was held November 9–11, Ocean Nutrition presented its new MEG-3 Citrus Soft Chews, which provide a minimum of 120 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and are available in bulk packages. WN Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (Burnaby, BC, Canada) has already announced that it will distribute the 20-calorie chews under its Sunkist brand name in Canada.
“This is a new product designed to provide customers with a delicious, convenient way to obtain the physiologically essential omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),” says Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing at Ocean Nutrition. “MEG-3 chews are a premium product because of the purity of the MEG-3 fish oil ingredient and the taste of the chew itself.”
Another company that is using MEG-3 as an ingredient, tortilla manufacturer Cali-Wraps (St. Marys, ON, Canada), recently became the first Canadian company to feature the MEG-3 brand on its packaging. Because MEG-3’s taste is not a factor, Cali-Wraps was able to offer the tortillas in four flavors. According to Mark Hyland, president of Cali-Wraps, the cachet of the MEG-3 brand was a factor in the decision to use the ingredient.
“We felt it was very important to include the MEG-3 brand and fish logo on our package so consumers can easily see that our tortillas contain more value than other omega-3 products,” Hyland says. “We think this is a tremendous source of consumer differentiation and a source of competitive advantage.”
Trappist Dairy (Hong Kong), which just began distributing OMU milk enriched with MEG-3 in Asia, also cites the advantage of branding and promotes the ingredient on its packaging and in animated advertisements in movie theaters. “The addition of MEG-3 to OMU milk offers consumers more nutritional value, while the MEG-3 brand helps differentiate OMU milk as containing the purest, most trusted fish oil ingredient to our customers,” says Stephen Lui, director and general manager of Trappist Dairy’s parent company, Lark International Holdings (Hong Kong).
Manufacturers also may opt to use other additives that protect ingredients and enhance stability. Lipid Nutrition (Channahon, IL), for instance, uses mannitol to improve the sensory characteristics of its Marinol HS omega-3 powders. Mannitol is a sugar alcohol often derived from manna ash that dissolves quickly in the bloodstream.
Consuming Fish May Slow Cognitive Decline
Elderly people who ate fish at least once per week experienced a 10% per year slower rate of cognitive decline than other people, according to a study published in the December issue of the Archives of Neurology.
In the study, Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a researcher at Rush University Medical Center (Chicago) analyzed six years of data from a study of Chicago residents. “Dietary intake of fish was inversely associated with cognitive decline over six years in this older, biracial community study,” the researchers wrote. “The rate of decline was reduced by 10–13% per year among persons who consumed one or more fish meals per week compared with those with less than weekly consumption.”
“Marinol HS powders can help manufacturers overcome the taste issues typically associated with other marine-based fish oil products and deliver the added benefit of increased stability in food applications and storage,” says Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager at Lipid Nutrition. “It addresses the two main concerns with incorporating omega-3 fatty acids in food applications: taste and stability.”
According to Luchsinger, Marinol HS powders offer a high concentration of omega-3s, which enables manufacturers to use fewer ingredients overall. The powders can also be dry blended with other ingredients, making it possible to create baked goods enriched with omega-3s as well as beverages.
DEODORIZING ENZYMATIC PROCESS
Another strategy for dealing with the sensory characteristics of omega-3s is to use enzymes to manufacture the oil. Pronova Biocare (Lysaker, Norway), for instance, now uses new enzyme-based technology to produce the triglycerides in its EPAX TG oils, which have virtually no taste or odor. According to Anders-Morten Blindheim, director for the EPAX business unit at Pronova, the new enzymatic process should expand the field of potential applications for omega-3s.
“The deodorized omega-3 TG concentrates will bring new opportunities to our customers, enabling them to reach target groups focused on taste and smell,” Blindheim says. “We see particular advantages and new possibilities for applications where deodorized omega-3 oils are of major significance, including chewable capsules and liquid formulas.”
NEW EQUIPMENT TECHNOLOGY
Manufacturers are also using new equipment technology to bring foods and beverages with omega-3 fatty acids to market. One of the most exciting new developments is the result of a collaboration between DSM Nutritional Products (Basel, Switzerland) and Tetra Pak (Lund, Sweden). The two companies recently created a chilled milk enriched with omega-3 oil.
The companies created the product using an omega-3 emulsion developed by DSM Nutritional Products and dosing technology provided by Tetra Pak’s Arom Pak division. The emulsion is protected during ultra-high-temperature processing by an aseptic bag system created for Arom Pak’s FlexDos dosing unit. A high-performance barrier in the packaging protects the product from oxygen, while the carton material itself blocks out light. Dairies also have several packaging options to choose from, including a carton sleeve with a plastic top, a package with a gable top, and the cost-effective Tetra Brik package. One of the first companies to try the technology was the Kerry Group (Kerry, Ireland), which used the process to launch Dawn Omega Milk in Ireland.
ALTERNATIVE INGREDIENT SOURCING
Even though the technology exists to address the sensory characteristics of omega-3s, some manufacturers prefer to bypass the issue altogether by using alternative sources. Aside from the problem of flavor, these sources may also address some additional concerns. Flax and other vegetable sources of omega-3s, for instance, can provide a nutty taste that accents the flavor of baked goods. Additionally, nonfish sources of omega-3s are also free from contaminants like mercury that must be removed from fish oil.
While flax oils can be a source of omega-3s, stability is still an issue. According to Doreen Vanden Tillaart, sales manager at Natunola Health (Winchester, ON, Canada), shelled flax can help address that problem.
Study Warns of Backlash to Mercury Advisories
Government advisories about the dangers of mercury in fish may be doing more harm than good, according to a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. One problem with the advisories, the researchers wrote, was that they may scare people away from eating fish, which has demonstrated health benefits.
“Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may protect against coronary heart disease and stroke, and are thought to aid in the neurological development of unborn babies,” says Joshua Cohen, PhD, lead author and senior research associate at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health (Boston). “If that information gets lost in how the public perceives this issue, then people may inappropriately curtail fish consumption and increase their risk for adverse health outcomes.”
The researchers recommended that the government proceed carefully before offering further warnings. “Before the government issues advisories, it needs to gather data on how people will actually react, how those changes in behavior will influence nutrient intake and exposure to contaminants, and how those changes in intake and exposure will translate into changes in health. In other words, before we put an intervention into action, we need to estimate its real-world impacts-both its benefits and its countervailing risks.”
“With ground flax, the grinding results in the flax oil, a very rich source of omega-3, being squished out of the flax kernel,” Vanden Tillaart says. “Flax oil is very unstable and, therefore, ground flax tends to go rancid very quickly and can have an unpleasant bitter flavor.”
Natunola uses a mechanical shelling process to remove the outer layers of flax seeds, exposing the nutrients underneath. “Our flax powders are not ground and therefore the flax oil is not released from the kernel, which makes these products extremely stable,” Vanden Tillaart explains. “Additionally, they have a delicious, nutty flavor.”
Shelled flax kernels, which contain fiber, lignans, and omega-3s, are another alternative, Vanden Tillaart says, adding that food manufacturers can even use shelled-flax products to replace flour in some circumstances.
Another alternative source of omega-3s is microalgae. Martek Biosciences (Columbia, MD) and Nutrinova (Frankfurt, Germany) both supply algal sources of DHA. One of the newest products on the market to feature algal DHA is Simbi + Omega-3, an enriched yogurt sold by Priegola (Madrid, Spain).
“We selected Martek DHA because it provides us with a concentrated form of DHA from a vegetarian source that does not adversely affect the flavor of our yogurt,” says Hans Peter Sieber, managing director of Priegola.
Nicolas Sieber, Priegola’s marketing director, adds that Martek’s adherence to good manufacturing practices was another reason. “Martek has developed a process that extracts DHA from algae that are grown in stainless-steel fermenters, which eliminates any risk of oceanic pollutants and toxins that may be present in DHA derived from fish or fish oils,” Siebert says.
Martek recently announced that it is now offering a less expensive version of its DHA. The new version became possible after the company revamped its manufacturing process. “Consumers and their health are the big winners from this new version of Martek DHA,” says Henry “Pete” Linsert, Martek’s CEO. “It’s a special day when you can get a great product at a much lower cost. This new product is ideal for foods and beverages with its stability and sensory characteristics, and it has all the benefits of a pure, vegetarian source of DHA.”
MORE INNOVATION TO COME
Now that food technologists have addressed the problems of flavor and stability, the next wave of new omega-3 foods and beverages may be even more innovative than the last. Everything from beverages to baked goods to sweet desserts is on the table. If the confidence of manufacturers and suppliers about omega-3s is any indication, high tide may be just around the corner. “The ability of food manufacturers to satisfy consumer demand for omega-3 fortified foods,” says Lipid Nutrition’s Luchsinger, “is now more possible than ever.”