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Posted: November 24, 2008
New nanotechnology focus group for the food and drink industry
(Nanowerk News) Leatherhead Food International (LFI) and the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN) have teamed up to launch a focus group to promote and develop a dialogue between the Government and the Food Industry to concentrate on the role of emerging micro- and nanotechnologies in food, drink and pharmafood applications.
Nanotechnology - the application of matter at dimensions of less than 100 nanometres - is an emerging science. Implementation of micro- and nanotechnologies in food and drink applications is predicted to grow rapidly due to the benefits they can bring for both industry and the consumer in terms of structure and texture control, health benefits, and safety and quality.
The new Focus Group will, among other things, promote current awareness of nanotechnology in the food and drink industry, identify potential technology that will impact on the food and drink industry, and act as a conduit for the relay of industry views to the Technology Strategy Board and the Government. It will also give Focus Group members the opportunity to be more involved in pre-competitive research under the auspices of EU and/or Technology Strategy Board programmes.
The term 'nano' is derived from a Greek word for dwarf, and one nanometre (nm) is equivalent to one billionth of a metre. "To put this into perspective, a human hair is 100,000nm wide, a red blood cell is about 7000nm wide, and a typical bacterium is 2000nm long," explains Kathy Groves, Project Leader, LFI. Nanotechnology is usually associated with materials that are less than 100nm in size.
Nanotechnology already exists naturally in foods, with meat being a classic example. "Meat is naturally composed of nanofibres," says Groves. "These nanofibres undergo changes during cooking or processing, which in turn influence the texture and eating quality. For manufacturers to deliver a successful vegetarian alternative that gives the taste and texture of meat, they need to understand and control the assembly of structures at the nanolevel."
Another area of investigation is to control the size of oil droplets to allow the reduction of the fat content of foods. "LFI's research has shown that if we reduce the size of fat crystals, we can improve functionality and put less fat in a product," says Groves.
LFI is also investigating novel/emerging technologies for preparing oil-in-water, water-in-oil, and multiple emulsions. An example of a multiple emulsion is a water-in-oil-in-water (WOW) emulsion. "Oil droplets with nano-sized water droplets inside, can be used to make mayonnaise, cream and similar products, offering lower fat with good sensory properties," adds Groves.
The Member-based research organisation is actively looking to extend its focus to other ingredients, including hydrocolloids, polysaccharides and proteins. "Real benefits from structuring these ingredients at the nano level would be obtained," concludes Groves.
According to Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, the nanofood market has increased from a value of USD2.6bn in 2003 to USD5.3bn in 2005; and it is expected to soar to USD20.4bn in 2015.