"We envision the use of hydrocolloid sponges in a variety of innovative food creations, including a line of nutritional diet products targeting the $40 billion weight loss market," said Fred Tannous, co-chairman and CEO of the Californian ingredients supplier.
He told NutraIngredients-USA.com that several snack foods are currently in development, such as puffs, Twinkies and cereal flakes. The technology can create the same consistency and mouth feel as fat replacement products or egg, but can be loaded with more nutritional compounds.
The process for combining and processing plant-derived hydrocolloids to produce edible sponges was developed by Professor Amos Nussinovitch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Agricultural Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in the 1990s.
Health Sciences acquired the exclusive worldwide license to the technology to produce edible sponges from technology transfer agent UTEK Corporation.
Edible sponges' potential for use in functional foods lies in its high liquid absorption and high compressibility, which enables the sponge to hold high amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and microorganisms.
The liquid gel can be molded into any shape, becoming foam-like when dry. It can also be inserted into other food products to add bulk and has no nutritional value, color or taste of its own. Such is its versatility that manufacturers can add any number of properties to suit their product.
Tannous expects the first products in the weight loss line to be launched in early 2006. The R&D budget is not yet public but will included in the company's next quarterly financial report.
"By buying the technology we have avoided a significant amount of R&D expense," said Tannous. "Our budget will take it to market and most of it will be allocated to marketing and advertising."
The company may also make hydrocolloid sponge available as a food ingredient in the future.
Whilst it is too early to project how the new technology will impact on the company's overall business, Tannous believes it could become a flagship product.
"We believe edible sponges present a significant growth opportunity for Health Sciences Group," he said.
In the past twelve months Health Sciences Group has acquired two other food technologies through UTEK. This month it is launching Sequesterol, a cholesterol-lowering natural kelp supplement developed in Korea.
In 4Q it will introduce an antioxidant powder derived from apple peel to the food ingredients market, using technology developed at Cornell University.