Innovation remains a key criterion for success in today’s competitive marketplace, whether in terms of a new food or beverage product, new processing breakthrough or novel packaging or ingredient. Food and beverage manufacturers are turning to dedicated international research organisations and bringing together basic and applied research specialists in order to optimise the potential for innovation.
In Belgium, the Puratos Group has recently established an alliance with Fugeia, a commercial spin-off from the University of Leuven and University College Sint-Lieven in Belgium, to develop novel breads and pastry products with inherent digestive health benefits.
The technology developed under the collaboration causes the natural fibres of cereals, such as wheat or rye, to be more accessible to digestion by beneficial bacteria in the large intestine. The fibres naturally present in the cereal flours are activated during baking and, once in the gut, act as prebiotic substrates for the intestinal flora without the need for external sources of fibre to be added to the dough.
Bread containing this activated cereal fibre is currently being tested in clinical trials on human volunteers conducted by the University of Leuven and Fugeia.
“It’s rewarding to see that this technology, which was originally developed by our research team at the University of Leuven and transferred to Fugeia, is now well on its way to reach the market,” says Jan Delcour, Fugeia’s co-founder and professor at the University of Leuven. “This illustrates once more the value of integrating the full knowledge chain from basic, to applied research, and finally to industrial applications that are beneficial to the consumer.”
In the UK, Campden BRI is working with a consortium of manufacturers and egg suppliers to test the performance of eggs in baked goods.
“Egg is naturally variable, so manufacturers of puddings, flans and cakes are working with us and the egg suppliers to find robust tests to predict how well egg will perform in manufacturing, and how it will impact the end product,” says Terry Sharp, head of baking & cereal processing, Campden BRI. “Ultimately, the funders own the results and can publicise the research findings if they wish.”
Dr Sharp explains how these valuable research projects come to life: “We run individual research projects with specific companies, and also carry out our own research which is financially supported by the membership,” he says, pointing out that the organisation can also identify an area of potential interest and then contact individual companies to invite them to share in the funding of a project.
“We build up a critical picture of issues on the horizon, and also respond to a lot of member enquiries, which give us a pretty good idea of the hot topics that would be worth concentrating our research on,” he adds. “We may approach an individual company or collaborate with several, whichever is best for the project.”
As a result of this process, Campden BRI’s cereals & milling department has recently worked with another consortium of companies to investigate wheat functionality through breeding & end use. Funded through the UK’s Link collaborative funding scheme by the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra); Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board-Home Grown Cereals Association (AHDB-HGCA); the National Association of British & Irish Millers (nabim) and the Federation of Bakers, the project successfully identified 606 quantitative trait loci for key aspects of wheat processing behaviour, which are now being exploited by individual plant breeders.
This research had the knock-on effect of improving the links between the providers of the applied and basic research and the rest of the supply chain.
“This was an important element behind the overall success of the project, and also facilitates the development of new routes and opportunities for the ongoing exploitation of the work,” says Dr Sam Millar, head of cereals & milling, Campden BRI, which also worked with Nickerson (UK) Ltd, RAGT Seeds and Syngenta Seeds.
Practical processing work was undertaken by ADM Milling Ltd, Allied Technical Centre Ltd, Campden BRI and RHM Technology – Premier Foods Group Ltd; while academic input was provided by the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and the University of East Anglia.
Although the breeding programmes in which the work will be exploited are longer-term initiatives, the new varieties of wheat that will ultimately result offer the possibility of a step change in wheat performance. Somewhat nearer the market is a fatty formulation that helps you feel fuller for longer.
The result of research activities at the Institute of Food Research together with the University of Nottingham in the UK, the work included the testing of volunteers for their sense of fullness, appetite and hunger at hourly intervals for 12 hours after consuming the fat complex.
The scientists have successfully formulated a fat that contains oil droplets that have been engineered to remain stable during digestion and subsequently trigger the gut hormones to send signals to the brain to reduce the desire to eat.
Volunteers were fed a fatty test meal comparable in volume to a large conventional meal and their stomachs ‘imaged’ in real time until they looked empty. The unstable emulsion quickly separated into water and fat and the droplets coalesced. Within one hour, the volume of the meal in the stomach had reduced to almost half that of the stable fat emulsion meal.
“Our research proves it is possible to design oil-in-water emulsions with different behaviours in the gut to influence gastrointestinal physiology and, ultimately, satiety,” says Dr Luca Marciana from the University of Nottingham, which also received funding from the BBSRC.
Dr Marciana pointed out that this research demonstrates that it’s now possible to produce two meals with the same fat content but different satiety effects, which could lead to the commercial availability of ingredients for use in foods to make them more filling.
Other near market research into the performance of ingredients in the gut has been conducted in France by two INRA research units: the Joint Research Unit for the Safety & Quality of Products of Plant Origin in Avignon and the Joint Research Unit for Lipid Nutrients & the Prevention of Metabolic Diseases in Marseille.
Coordinated by Royal Holloway University in London, the European colourspore project involves nine partners who will be working over a three-year period to develop new sources of food colourants and additives that are natural and stable in the stomach.
Recently, the researchers have uncovered certain carotenoids arising from marine organisms that remain stable when in contact with gastric acid. Ultimately, it’s hoped that the consortium will be in a position to understand these bacterial carotenoids, characterise their antioxidant activity and bioavailability, and assess their potential as food additives or colourants.
The project currently has nine partners, including two commercial partners, and has received €3m financial support from the European Commission. Initiated in 2008, the research is expected to run until 2011.
Other scientists in France have been working on the hygiene of materials, and at the Joint Research Unit for Food Process Engineering in Massy, researchers have modified the surface of plastics to render them either ‘attractive’ or ‘repulsive’ to bacteria.
They have successfully endowed the surface of plastic materials with ‘controlled’ hydrophilic properties (ie with different acid-base or electrical properties), which can reduce the surface’s propensity to biocontamination.
The development of these innovative surfaces for use in food applications is now the subject of an additional collaborative research programme (ANR Emergence Bio 2008) that aims to demonstrate the industrial feasibility of the process and its antimicrobial efficacy. The method of modifying the surface of inert plastic material has already been patented by INRA.
Claire Rowan is editor of Food & Beverage International. Subscribe to the magazine here.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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