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Food Characteristics Changed by Nanomaterials

Nanoparticles are being used to deliver vitamins or other nutrients in food and beverages without affecting their taste or appearance. These nanoparticles encapsulate the nutrients and carry them through the stomach into the bloodstream.

In some cases, this delivery method also allows a higher percentage of the nutrients to be absorbed by your body. When encapsulated by the nanoparticles, some nutrients that would otherwise be lost in your stomach are instead absorbed.

Researchers are also looking into developing nanocapsules containing nutrients that are released when nanosensors detect a deficiency in your body. Basically this research could result in a super-vitamin storage system in your body that gives you just what you need, when you need it.

Scientists are also developing nanomaterials that could change the taste, color, and texture of foods you eat. So-called interactive foods are being developed that would allow you to choose the flavor and color of your food. Want lemon-lime soda instead of root beer? Just program your beverage!

The idea is that nanocapsules that contain flavor or color enhancers sit in the food waiting until a hungry or thirsty consumer triggers them. The method hasn’t been published, so it will be interesting to see how this particular trick is accomplished.

Britain’s Daily Mail Online described one such experiment that uses nanoparticles, comparing it to a stick of gum in the Willy Wonka story that produced the flavors of a full roast beef dinner. Apparently the Institute of Food Research (IFR) has stated that current technology could help us program and release certain flavors. Each flavor in the meal is separated by a gelatin layer that has no flavor at all.

Researchers at Harvard are working on nanostructures they call colliodosomes that can capture the flavor of various ingredients. These flavors would be released based on enzymes in saliva or the time spent chewing the gum or other substance.

Unfortunately, at this point, such a product would only give you a taste, but not make you feel full nor provide any nutritional value. (But on the plus side, the product would have no calories!)

Finally, various reports have said that researches are developing nanoparticle emulsions for use in ice cream to improve its texture and uniformity.

The estimates of how many food products or packaging materials have nano components vary widely, to some degree because of differing definitions of nanotechnology. As a result of this and regulatory uncertainty, food companies generally are stating that nano components have not been added to their product.

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