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Nano in food

Nano nosh

There is lots of speculation about how nano could help enhance foods, from futuristic ideas about foods that change to respond to your nutritional needs or taste preferences - to more down to earth applications - such as better ways to add flavours, create textures or enhance nutritional benefits.

At the moment, though we can't be certain, there seems to be very little use of nano in food in the UK, though many companies, large and small, are researching what it could do. The known uses are confined to wrapping nutritional ingredients into nano-sized parcels for better absorption in food or mineral supplements, though nano is likely to be used more widely in packaging.

Companies don't talk much about their research because they don't want their competitors to know and because
they are concerned about a negative consumer reaction to the idea of nano
in food.

For these reasons it is likely that in the near future nano will be more about enhancing existing foods than creating new materials or new food products.

What's nano and what's not?

On a fundamental level, foods like milk have natural components on the nanoscale, while processes such as flour milling, some cheese making and certain sorts of food processing, which have been used safely for many years, can in some forms also be described as nanotechnologies. This is what adds to the confusion that exists about nano in food.

But we use the term today to mean when we deliberately use tools, processes, and materials that work at the nanoscale to develop new, and hopefully improved food products, e.g. with less salt or fat, but tasting like the real thing. Some of these are likely to be an extension of existing technologies and others more complex.

Natural nano

Nano particles are also found in nature. Milk is in fact an example of a nanotechnology in which incredibly small particles of protein are suspended in water.

Ricotta Cheese is another example of nanotechnology which is made by creating the conditions for nanoparticles of protein to stick together to form gels which give it that special texture.

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