Frankenfoods: Is Microencapsulation the Future of Eating?

An article entitled “The Frankenfood that improves you” in UK’s The Times newspaper highlights a number of highly-technological developments in functional foods. Of these, encapsulation technologies play a huge role in their picture of the future of foods.

From the article [emphasis added]:

Imminent slim while you guzzle: pizza and beer to help you lose weight. Drinks, snack bars and foods containing encapsulated liquids that turn to fibre in your stomach, slowing the “transit time” of food through your system and giving an illusion of being full.

Fresh just got better: carton fruit juices and other “fresh” products in packets are often heat-treated to destroy bacteria, though this can damage them. New techniques such as pasteurisation by high pressure or electric pulse will extend shelflife without impairing taste or vitamins. They will also cut down on the need for preservatives.

Where would you like to be served? Nano-capsules, many times narrower than a human hair, allow flavours and other chemicals to be suspended invisibly in fluids. They dissolve and release their contents when they reach your palate, your stomach, or your lower gut, as the manufacturer wishes. It’s a new way of delivering nutrients or medicines, or selling, say, a vinaigrette that never needs shaking.

Yoghurt for the brain: the next incarnation of drinks and foods with probiotics, enzymes and omega-3 oils is yoghurts and juices that claim to boost the health of your eyes, improve alertness or even your “cognitive function”. Already licensed in the US, the labels await approval in Europe.

Playtime bread: several manufacturers are planning micro-encapsulated omega-3 oil in bread and other foods, with no taste contamination, to market as a fortified superbread for children’s sandwiches.

Better bio-degradable packaging: made of lactic acids and vegetable starch, but more attractive.

“Beauty from within”: Nestlé and L’Oréal are selling fruit juices as cosmetics, with the upmarket Glowelle range of “beauty drinks”, delivering antioxidants for skin health. Just launched in East Asia is a Nescafé with collagen in it that promises to fill your wrinkles as it perks you up.

Five years ahead

Intelligent packaging: sensors in the wrappers of fresh meat and veg that will tell the retailer — or you — what the food’s temperature or state of freshness is. They could trigger the release of gases or chemicals such as nano-silver to change the internal climate or kill microbes.

Eat yourself happy or relaxed: the way that the neurotransmitter serotonin works in the brain and the gut, and the links between eating, pleasure and happiness, are one of the most busy areas of “brain food” research. Already in Japan an antistress chocolate, using the hormone GABA, has had huge sales success. Chocolate-cherry chewing gum and other sweets with nano- encapsulated flavourings, set to release at different times. You may be able to choose and preprogramme the gum to release whichever flavours you want.

Mouth-feel and oral wetting: new chemicals alter foods to boost the production of saliva, making things taste juicier or more refreshing, and improve the pleasurable sensation of melting fats. Nestlé leads the research.

You decide what coke is it: reportedly, Coca-Cola has experimented with a carton drink, using micro-encapsulation techniques, that offers the consumer the choice of what colour and flavour is released into the liquid on opening it.

Leave a Reply