Friday, December 16, 2011


The discovery that some unsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential in the diet for maintaining prime health and avoiding diseases like CVD and Cancer has changed the human perception regarding consumption of edible fats in the daily diet. Added to this there is a widely held belief that saturated fats and trans fats are not good for health bringing about radical changes in the composition of food products developed and marketed by the industry during the last one decade. Though Flax seed, Olive oil are sources of essential fatty acids, fish is the over whelming favorite of nutritionist as well as health experts as the long chain Omega-3 present in this source namely DHA is more efficient in bestowing the benefits attributed to this nutrient. As there is a significant population in the world which do not consume fish and since a few plant sources have smaller levels of Omega-3, the search for an alternate source with high omega-3 has been going on for some time ending up with some Algal strains capable of producing them under right media conditions. Here is a take on this interesting development that forebodes well for the food fortification programs of the industry.    

"Fats tend to be less than cooperative in food processing. This can make the move to healthy fats somewhat complicated. In beverage formulations, for example, it's the nature of fats not to mix with water, making it difficult to fortify drinks with omega-3 fatty acids. But in food formulations, unsaturated fats are more fluid at room temperature and oxidize more readily than saturated fats. With omega-3s the darling of healthy oils, other hurdles have to be overcome. "Fats with high unsaturation, as is the case of the long-chain fatty acids DHA and EPA, are delicate compounds that can degrade and cause off-flavors and aromas that are undesirable," says Ruben Abril, director of international ingredient formulations and technical support for DSM Nutritional Products (, Parsippany, N.J. "However, if these fats are handled properly and added in the food production process using a systematic approach, the final fortified product will taste and smell as we expect them to taste and smell. DHA/EPA-fortified milk will taste like milk if it is consumed directly or if it is used as an ingredient to prepare other foods, and it will have the added advantage of now containing DHA and/or EPA omega-3s." DHA comes primarily from fish. This severely restricts its usage as the aroma and flavor are strong, reminding consumers of their last fishing trip. While microencapsulation technology and better processing threw the door open for wider use of fish-sourced omegas in foods and beverages, some promises of neutral aroma were still proving hard to keep. The increased use of the alphalinolenic acid (ALA) form of omega oil from flax oil has proven successful, but ALA does not completely convert to DHA in the body and that's the form with the greatest health benefit. Fish oil DHA is actually a modification of the shorter-chain omega-3 fatty acids ultimately derived from algae and research led to the discovery of algae that produced the longer chain DHA directly. This form has the advantage of providing the desired health components as fish oil without the negatives of aroma associated with that source. Algal omega oil is often referred to as vegan DHA. DSM provides life's DHA brand, an omega derived solely from algae. Several different milk producers have launched products enriched with algal DHA in the past few years. "I've seen the growing trend in the fortification of foods with DHA/EPA, and it will continue to grow," adds Abril. "Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are extremely important fats scientifically proven to help support eye, brain and cardiovascular health at all stages of life."

Being unsaturated in nature Omega-3 oils are highly vulnerable to oxidative rancidity and food formulations containing high water like milk and beverages, product development can be a nightmare. But with newer technologies like encapsulation and emulsification it is possible to incorporate Omega-3 into any food product during the manufacturing process. Algal Omega-3 is practically odorless, unlike fish oils and can be incorporated with no evidence of its presence to the consumer. This development is especially relevant to a predominantly vegetarian country like India with sizable population shunning fish and soon Omega-3 fortified foods may make their presence on the supermarket shelves in the country.


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