5 years ago



28 impacting agriculture

28 impacting agriculture and food production, food processing, packaging, distribution, storage and developments of innovative products. A number of recent reports have identified the current and short-term projected applications of nanotechnologies for food and related sectors (Chaudhry et al., 2010; Chaudhry et al., 2008). The main driving principle behind these developments seems to be aimed at enhancing uptake and bioavailability of nano-sized nutrients and supplements, and improving taste, consistency, stability and texture of food products (Chaudhry et al., 2010; Chaudhry et al., 2008). A major area for current nanotechnology applications in the food sector is for food packaging. The new nanoparticle-polymer composites can offer a number of improvements in mechanical performance as well as certain functional properties, such as antimicrobial activity to protect the packaged foodstuffs. Food packaging applications of nanotechnologies are estimated to make up the largest share of the current and short-term predicted nano-food market (Cientifica, 2006). Other main applications relate to health-food sector, where nano-sized supplements and nutraceuticals have been developed to enhance nutrition, and to improve health and well-being. Compared to this, most applications relating to the mainstream food and beverage areas are at the R&D stage, and only a few products are currently available. These applications include development of nano-structured (also termed as nano-textured) food materials. This relates to processing foodstuffs to develop nano-structures and stable emulsions to improve consistency, taste and texture attributes. Nano-textured foodstuffs can also enable a reduction in the use of fat. A typical product of this technology would be a nano-textured ice cream, mayonnaise or spread, which is low-fat but as “creamy” as the full-fat alternative. Such products would offer ‘healthy’ but still tasteful food products to the consumer. Examples include ongoing R&D in Taiwan (Hwang & Yeh, 2010) and Japan (Tsukamoto et al., 2010) on development of micronized starch, cellulose, wheat and rice flour, and a range of spices and herbs for herbal medicine and food applications. Another area of application relates to the use of nano-sized additives in food products. The main claimed benefits include better dispersibility of waterinsoluble additives (e.g. colours, flavours, preservatives, supplements) in food products without the use of additional fat or surfactants. This is also claimed to enhance taste and flavour due to the enlarged surface areas of the nano-sized

additives, and enhance absorption and bioavailability in the body compared with conventional bulk forms. Currently available examples include vitamins, antioxidants, colours, flavours, and preservatives. Also developed for use in food products are nano-sized carrier systems for nutrients and supplements. These are based on nanoencapsulation of the substances in the form of liposomes, micelles, or protein based carriers. These nano-carrier systems are used to mask the undesirable taste of certain additives and supplements, or to protect some them from degradation during processing. The nano-encapsulated nutrients and supplements are also claimed for enhanced bioavailability, antimicrobial activity, and other health benefits. An example application, currently under R&D, is that of a mayonnaise which is composed of an emulsion that contains nano-droplets of water inside. The mayonnaise would offer taste and texture attributes similar to the full fat equivalent, but with a substantial reduction in the fat intake of the consumer (Clegg et al., 2009). Certain inorganic nano-sized additives are also finding applications in (health)food area. Example of these include transition metals (e.g. silver, iron), alkaline earth metals (e.g. calcium, magnesium), and non metals (e.g. selenium, silica). The use of inorganic nano-additives is claimed for enhanced tastes and flavours due to enlarged surface areas. An example is nano-salt, the use of which would give more salt particles on a product (e.g. chips/ crisps) and allow the consumer to taste the salt more when added at a lower level. Food supplements in this category are also claimed for enhanced absorption and improved bioavailability compared with conventional equivalents. Food packaging is currently the major area of application of metal and metaloxide nanomaterials. Example applications include plastic polymers with nanoclay additives for gas barrier, nano-silver and nano-zinc oxide for antimicrobial action, nano-titanium dioxide for UV protection, nano-titanium nitride for mechanical strength and as a processing aid, nano-silica for hydrophobic surface coating, etc. Nano-silver is finding increasing applications as an antimicrobial, antiodorant, and a (proclaimed) health supplement. Although the current use of nano-silver relates mainly to health-food and packaging applications, its use as an additive in antibacterial wheat flour is the subject of a recent patent application (Park, 2006). Nano-silica is known to be used in food contact surfaces and food packaging applications, and some reports suggest its use in clearing of beers 29

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