Microspheres in Your Food: Sound Appetizing?

Articles
January 27, 2010

Microspheres in Your Food: Sound Appetizing?

As consumers become increasingly aware of the ability to stay healthy through dietary choices, they are also beginning to understand the negative effects that cooking and processing methods can have on the nutrient content of their food.

As consumers become increasingly aware of the ability to stay healthy through dietary choices, they are also beginning to understand the negative effects that cooking and processing methods can have on the nutrient content of their food. Upwards of 50 percent of the vitamin and mineral content can be lost when foods are improperly or over-cooked. Have you ever wondered if your daily meal replacement bar or heat-and-eat lunch are really delivering the vitamins and minerals they claim, after processing, sitting in your cupboard and then finally being cooked and consumed?
 
Well scientists have been busy working on a new technology involving microspheres, which have applications ranging from food to fragrance.  Microspheres and microcapsules are hollow spheres made of different digestible materials such as starches, which can deliver vitamins, minerals and even flavors to our foods. Energy bar manufacturers have already started using this technology to efficiently deliver nutrients that may be more sensitive to processing and exposure to air. Some bakeries are adding encapsulated fish oils to breads; this way consumers receive the plethora of benefits associated with fish oils, with out the unpleasant smell or taste. 
 
Vitamins and minerals are not the only ones receiving the ‘special delivery treatment.’ This technology can also be used for delivering flavors in cooked foods, preventing the blandness that often occurs from overcooking. Imagine heating up a basil, tomato, mozzarella frozen pizza only to find that you left it in the oven too long and that the fresh basil flavor is long gone. Microspheres are able to deliver flavors through extracts and emulsions that are released when the food reaches a certain temperature. Hence, basil encapsulated microspheres can be added to the pizza and released seconds before it is fully cooked. The aroma would act as a back up kitchen timer, and that fresh basil flavor would be preserved. 
 
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved microspheres can be purchased by food manufacturers for about 40-60 dollars per pound; cost of course depends on the price of the encapsulated ingredient and the specific properties of the capsule itself. 
 
This technology sounds like a great way to preserve and deliver nutrition and flavor, but keep in mind that consumers are increasingly demanding foods that have undergone less processing, contain fewer ingredients and many are taking the time and effort to really learn and understand food and where it comes from. This technology may prove a difficult sell. If retailers decide to use this in their products, it should serve a unique role.