A probiotic cheese and products with high CLA levels are among the foods being developed at a new €16 million functional food research centre, recently opened in Ireland.
The centre, which draws together researchers from Teagasc, the country's agriculture and food development authority, and the University College Cork (UCC) in a new Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, was the recipient of the largest grant ever awarded to a research project by the country's Science Foundation, set up by the Government to promote biotechnology.
Speaking at a food industry open day run by Teagasc last week, Dr Liam Donnelly, director of Food Research at the agency's research unit Moorepark, said that the new cheese with live cultures being developed at the centre is currently undergoing industrial trials, in conjunction with the Irish Dairy Board.
Meanwhile conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) research is set to help differentiate Irish dairy products from international competitors, said Dr Donnelly.
"CLA is associated with beneficial health effects, particularly anti-cancer properties, and is present at higher levels in cows fed on grass. Our research at Moorepark has found that a further increase in CLA concentration is achieved by supplementing the cow diet on grass with particular concentrates," he revealed.
The Irish researchers are now involved in a major research programme aimed at maximising the level of CLA in Irish dairy products, which will offer significant competitive advantage in consumer markets abroad.
He also discussed work exploring a special form of biocheese in suppressing harmful bacteria in the mouth, thereby aiding dental health.
"The biocheese is made using a unique lactic culture that produces the antimicrobial, lacticin, which has the ability to inhibit oral health. Lacticin was the subject of a world-first discovery by a team of Teagasc/UCC scientists a number of years ago. The concept of a biofood for dental health based on lacticin can be extended to functional beverages as well as dairy products," he said.
According to Donnelly, functional foods could generate as much as €200 million for Irish companies over the next five years.
The new research centre will also help generate the scientific data needed by companies wishing to use health claims, soon to be regulated by pending EU legislation.
The Cork-based centre will be managed by Dr Fergus Shanahan, UCC Professor of Medicine.