Functional formulation: The latest science on nutrient delivery in foods and drinks

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

From co-encapsulation technologies, to multiple emulsions and the notion of using ‘excipient foods’, there is no shortage of research investigating new ways to deliver functional ingredients more effectively in a food or drink matrix.
From co-encapsulation technologies, to multiple emulsions and the notion of using ‘excipient foods’, there is no shortage of research investigating new ways to deliver functional ingredients more effectively in a food or drink matrix.

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acids Functional food Nutrition

Coming up with that killer idea for a cool functional food or drink that consumers will love may be a tough ask. But designing it to deliver can be even trickier. We take a look at some of the latest science on functional food formulation.

The functional food and drink market grew 25% between 2008 and 2013 reaching €249bn ($267.6bn), according to data from Euromonitor International, as consumer demand for products that deliver benefits grows significantly year-on-year. But designing new functional products to deliver a wide range of functional compounds and nutrients requires clever use of formulation. 

Speaking to NutraIngredients at the recent HiE event in Amsterdam, Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business suggested that in the future, companies will have to appeal more to consumers’ desires in order to be successful.

“You cannot take a technology and force it down people’s throats,” ​said Mellentin. “You cannot educate the consumer about your ingredient, because they are being bombarded with information all the time, so you just have to find what they believe in and how they connect to it.”

Indeed, while coming up a great idea for a functional food or drink product, that fits with consumer demands and expectation may be a tough ask, developing that idea in to a finished product that looks, tastes, and feels great is a monumental challenge.

In this special edition, we take a look at some of the latest research that could help in designing and reformulating functional foods and drinks. From co-encapsulation technologies, to multiple emulsions and the notion of using ‘excipient foods’, there is no shortage of research investigating new ways to deliver functional ingredients more effectively in a food or drink matrix.

Encapsulation promise

Recent research published in the Journal of Functional Foods​ suggested that an encapsulation complex made up of gelatin and sodium hexametaphosphate could enable stable microencapsulation of fish oil with multiple lipophilic bioactive compounds​ - suggesting that manufacturers of functional foods and supplements could use the method to include multiple vitamins and other lipophilic ingredients like curcumin and coenzyme Q10 in to an omega-3 rich encapsulate. 

These ingredients are often unstable and require stabilization before being incorporated into foods,”​ noted the team. “Since omega-3 lipids are widely used functional food ingredients and require microencapsulation for stabilization and delivery to many foods, we decided to co-encapsulate other lipophilic ingredients to create combination products containing omega-3 oil, vitamins A, D3​, E and K2​, coenzyme Q10​ and curcumin.”​ 

Meanwhile, further research published in the same journal suggested that a newly described stable co-encapsulation of omega-3 rich oil with probiotic bacteria could be a boon for manufacturers​ looking to incorporate the functional ingredients in to functional food products.

The team behind the study explored ways to produce a co-encapsulated omega-3 and probiotic using a whey protein isolate (WPI) and gum Arabic complex (GA) – finding that omega-3 fatty acids and probiotic bacteria can form a stable co-encapsulate that can then be either spray dried or freeze dried to form a powder.

“When probiotic bacteria and omega-3 fatty acids are co-encapsulated in a single product, there may be synergistic health benefits,”​ wrote the authors, led by Divya Eratte of Federation University Australia.

“A synergetic effect between omega-3 fatty acids and probiotic bacteria during digestion has been reported, where omega-3 lipids help probiotic bacteria attach to the intestinal wall. There may also be stability benefits of co-microencapsulation.”

Multiple emulsions 

While encapsulation technologies could provide a great way to deliver nutrients in certain food and beverage formulations, others may be solved using other solutions – such as the use of multiple-layer emulsions.

Last year, research led by Francisco Jiménez-Colmenero from the Institute of Science and Technology Food and Nutrition in Spain suggested that better use of multiple emulsion systems could help industry to develop better functional foods​ by reducing levels of fat, sugar and salt whilst also providing ways to incorporate bioactive compounds.

“Since multiple emulsions offer the opportunity to enclose nutritional and bioactive compounds, and these emulsions could be used as food ingredients, they offer an interesting approach among the technological strategies used to optimize dietary active components in new food systems such as functional foods,”​ said the Spanish researcher.

While many firms have explored the potential of multiple emulsion technology, Jiménez-Colmenero noted that most research has so far focused on the design, formation, structure and properties of water-oil-water (W1​/O/W2​) emulsions themselves in order to achieve specific properties such as high stability and encapsulation efficiency; without considering their potential food applications.

“As a result, it is not known how they will behave in a food matrix or hence what impact they will have on the technological, sensory and microbiological properties of complex matrixes of real foods,”​ he said.

Excipient foods

In addition to the utilisation of encapsulation and emulsion technologies to better deliver functional ingredients, researchers have suggested that improving the design of functional and finished products, by better understanding the role of excipient foods, could help increase the bioavailability of functional nutrients.

While the use of specially designed delivery systems for such ingredients has been widely investigated and used by industry to improve dispersibility, stability, food compatibility, and bioavailability, the potential for ‘excipient foods’ to improve bioavailability within a finished product less utilised​, explained Professor David Julian McClements, writing in Current Opinion in Food Science.

“Recent studies have shown that the bioavailability of certain nutraceuticals can be increased by consuming them with other foods,”​ he said.

“Excipient foods can also be designed to improve the efficacy of nutraceuticals whose bioavailability is normally limited by other factors, such as gastrointestinal transformation or poor absorption.”

“The bioavailability of nutraceuticals with poor absorption characteristics may be improved by consuming them with food matrices containing components that increase cell permeability or reduce efflux mechanisms,” ​McClements added.

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