Firmenich is unveiling the first innovation to come out of its newly formed nutrition and health unit - Duralife Omega 3, which uses microencapsulation technology to overcome stability issues of working with the healthful ingredient.
The international flavour company, with its headquarters in Switzerland, announced its entry into ingredients for health and nutrition in 2005, in recognition of the swelling trend towards functional foods.
Its aim is to apply its existing expertise in the flavours arena to functional ingredients - especially those with inherent instability, intrinsic off-flavours or reactivity within food matrices.
And that is exactly what it has done with Duralife Omega 3; the ingredient uses the same technology as Firmenich's Durarome flavours, which are protected from oxidation by the proprietary encapsulation technology.
Omega 3 has posed particular problems for formulators in the past since it has the tendency to develop a fishy taste and smell when oxidation occurs.
Firmenich is by no means the first company to find a way around this using the principle of microencapsulation - although the underlying technology may differ in each case.
For instance, Ocean Nutrition Canada recently revealed that its Powder-loc technology uses a double shell matrix - that is, the oil is enclosed within small shells, which are themselves enclosed within a larger shell. This gives an extra layer of protection should either the inner or the outer shells rupture.
The technology that underlies Duralife Omega 3 and Durarome, meanwhile, consists of droplets of fish oil dispersed within a carbohydrate matrix.
Unlike with spray-dried oils, both these approaches mean that no oil is actually exposed on the surface.
Firmenich has said that its technology will be suitable for use in dry and dehydrated beverage applications (sweet and savoury, hot and cold), instant hot cereals, compressed tablets, fat fillings and powder mixes for cakes and deserts, baby food, soups and ready meals.
To make its functional ingredients debut with microencapsulated omega-3 may be a shrewd move on Firmenich's part, since it combines two hot areas of development for the food industry.
Interest in omega-3 has exploded in recent years following a plethora of positive studies linking the fatty acids (in particular long chain DHA and EPA) to a number of health benefits including cardiovascular health and cognitive function and development.
In 2004 the European market for omega-3 was valued at US$194 million (around €160 million), more than three-quarters of which was generated by marine oils.
Frost and Sullivan has predicted that the omega-3 market will grow at rates of 8 per cent on average to 2010.
"Most industry experts agree that more omega-3 PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] need to be incorporated into our diets," Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Kathy Brownlie said recently.
In the past couple of years, omega-3 has stepped boldly out of the supplements closet and into foods, putting in an appearance in bakery, dairy, confectionary and meat products.
On the microencapsulation front, Brownlie has also been outspoken about the potential:
"The demand for encapsulation technologies is estimated to be increasing at around 10 per cent annually, with new markets and opportunities opening up every year," she said.
"The sector is continuously innovating, and challenges associated with different food systems call for the use of different microencapsulation technologies."