The encapsulation method uses crystalline-like fibres to embed and protect the nutraceuticals from external influences, thus preventing degradation.
The research team, led by Dr Srinivas Janaswamy of Purdue University, USA, say that the new method to encapsulate such ingredients could be used to provide solutions within food-based products, but could also lead to products that allow consumers to be able to sprinkle vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds directly onto their meals.
Writing in the journal Food & Function, the research team “propose an elegant and novel approach for the delivery of nutraceuticals in their active form, using hydrocolloid matrices that are inexpensive and non-toxic with generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status.”
The team said that nutraceuticals such as beta-carotene, lycopene, resveratrol and vitamins – which are thought to play significant roles in treating or preventing disease – could be encased using the new methods.
"Once the nutraceutical is enveloped, it is thermally protected," explained Janaswamy. "Anything of interest can be used, even drug molecules, vitamins or hormones."
Janaswamy envisions that the encapsulated bioactives could be ‘chopped’ into small particles, which could then be used in the formulation of processed foods or might even be used at the dinner table where consumers could reach for the resveratrol or curcumin in the same as they might sprinkle some salt or pepper.
However the Purdue research team still has a few challenges overcome before the nutraceutical fibre delivery system is suitable for use in foods or on consumers’ dinner tables.
Janaswamy explained that the current release time for the compounds from the fibre matrix is around 30 minutes. He and his team are working on delaying the release of the embedded compounds once consumed.
He said the time would need to be extended to about three hours to ensure that the bioactives reach the gut, where they can be properly absorbed.
In the research, Janaswamy and his team used iota-carrageenan, a long-chain carbohydrate, to encapsulate curcumin. Curcumin is the principle compound found in the spice turmeric and is considered to be effective against inflammation, cancer and obesity.
Iota-carrageenan was reported to form a ‘well-orientated’ fibre network that maintained a stable double-helical structure with small pockets between the helices that contain water molecules. Janaswamy replaced these water pockets with curcumin, which was then protected by the iota-carrageenan network.