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Nano in food

Looking into the future

Nano is likely to be under research at the moment in a number of areas, with benefits thought to be as follows:

Taste: Using nano particles of existing ingredients means we could get more of the taste but less of the negative. For example with chocolate - because of
'The Surface Area Thing' a product can taste more chocolatey, but have less cocoa in it, so keeping the calories down.

It can also be used to keep a salty taste, on something like crisps or in processed foods, but with much less salt being used.

Texture: Many of us like the texture of some rich foods, but don’t want the calories or the fat. By looking at how fats are structured and controlling them at the nanoscale, for example by making fat globules with water inside so they stay the same size but are less fatty, the texture of foods can be changed.

Spreads, ice creams and mayonnaise could, for example, be made to taste and feel as 'creamy' as their full fat alternatives but with almost half the fat.

Nutrition: Nutrients could be isolated and added to foods, these tiny ‘nano parcels' may help with the absorption of the nutrients or be used to fortify them for health or disease prevention purposes, without changing the flavour or texture of the product.

Iron, for example, doesn’t get absorbed well because it combines with other particles in the gut and doesn’t get through to where it is needed. Encapsulating iron in a little jacket of protein or other naturally occurring material it could be delivered more effectively to where it is needed.

What are
nutraceuticals?

This is the name given to an extract of a food which is claimed to have a health benefit - part nutrient, part pharmaceutical. For example the stuff that makes tomatoes red (lycopene) appears to have benefits in preventing some cancers. It is normally only soluble in fats and oils, but by making the particles very small it can be made in a water-soluble form, which might be used in drinks, for example.

New processing techniques and ingredients - use of nanotechnologies may change some techniques of food processing; providing new ways to preserve or colour food, or improving flavour whilst adding less of it.

'Electronic Tongues and Noses'

Electronic Tongues and Noses (yep, that's what they are really called!) have been around for a while in the food industry to detect different ingredients in food or indicate when a food has been contaminated.

By using nanotechnologies it is possible to make these sensors more sensitive and accurate, and possibly even allow them to be incorporated into food packaging to alert shoppers when food has gone bad or is contaminated in some way.

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