Functional and Novel Foods

Functional and Novel Foods

Author: Vera Koester

Our modern society is critically opposed to the industrial processing of food. However, today’s way of life and the demands of most people do not allow for a time-intensive preparation of food from agricultural products. Immensely large amounts of processed food are sold each day.

The emotional relationship of consumers to certain foods is of particular interest to the media and industry. Food scandals and issues such as food intolerances or health or taste aspects of certain foods ensure a high level of attention in the population and determine the sales of the affected products.

Regarding functional ingredients, there is the distinction between:

  1. biofunctional or physiologically important ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, or unsaturated fatty acids, and
  2. technofunctional ingredients such as emulsifiers (e.g., lecithins) or preservatives (e.g., salt, citric acid, lactic acid).

Both types of functional ingredients are important for the production of healthy and long-lasting foods. At a DECHEMA Colloquium in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 3rd, modern emulsifiers, bacteriophages for enhancing food safety, baker’s yeast for the production of functional ingredients, and the new European novel food regulation were discussed.

Production of Resveratrol in Baker’s Yeast

Resveratrol is a naturally occurring ingredient in grapes, raspberries, and other plants. It belongs to the family of polyphenols. According to Evolva, Switzerland, it is associated with a range of beneficial effects such as maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system, supporting healthy blood glucose, insulin, and blood pressure levels, increasing bone density in an osteoporosis model, maintaining healthy neurocognitive function, and reducing oxidative damage common with aging [1]. Therefore, the company introduces resveratrol as a novel food and pharma ingredient.

Ernesto Simon, Evolva, Reinach, Switzerland, reported that their production process of resveratrol involving fermentation of glucose with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae allows for a consistent, pure supply of resveratrol with a purity over 98 % [1, 2]. Evolva plans to produce more and more functional ingredients in yeast.

Design of Modern Emulsifiers

Proteins and surfactants are traditional emulsifiers used to create stable food dispersions. Recently, mixed biopolymer systems assembled into complexes have gained interest as emulsifying agents.

Dr. Benjamin Zeeb, Universität Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany, showed that protein-pectin complexes were successfully adsorbed to the interface of an oil-in-water emulsion. By this, they improve the stability of the emulsion at a pH close to the isoelectric point of the protein. Zeeb said that industrially relevant biopolymers such as proteins and pectins can be used to generate a wide number of mixed emulsifier systems with tailor-made properties. The industrial use of mixed biopolymer systems is not limited to emulsion formation and stabilization. Additional applications might include the use as delivery and encapsulation systems, water binder, texture modifier, or fat replacer. However, a deep understanding of the interaction forces involved in the formation and stabilization of the complexes is important. Once the scientific basis of structure-function relationships is better established, Zeeb thinks that food manufacturers might be able to rationally design novel food structures using mixed biopolymer systems.

Enhancing Food Safety with Bacteriophages

Food producers have to deal with the conflicting requirements that on the one hand, the food products should be fresh, healthy, and appealing with a high standard of microbiological quality and safety, and on the other hand, they should be produced with minimal processing, without the use of preservatives, and at sufficiently low price, and with long shelf life to be competitive. Biopreservation is one of the approaches for controlling microbiological quality and safety without the use of classical preservatives. It involves the use of microorganisms which are natural competitors or enemies of the harmful bacteria in food.

In 2009, Dr. Anne Elsser-Gravesen, ISI Food Protection, Aarhus, Denmark, founded ISI Food Protection together with her husband as a center for expertise for food microbiology. She reported a new approach to use bacteriophages to protect food against the bacterial spoilage or attack of pathogenic germs. Bacteriophages are natural bacterial viruses which act selectively against bacteria. Elsser-Gravesen and colleagues isolated and tested bacteriophages for their use in foods. In laboratory tests, biophages successfully could be used to specifically kill the gram-negative pathogens Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli. She hopes to test the approach in real production in 2017.

New European Novel Food Regulation

Foods with modified or novel food ingredients have to be approved by the European Union before they enter the market. This is regulated in the Novel Food Regulation VO 2015/2283. Professor Alfred Hagenmeyer, meyer.rechtsanwälte Partnerschaft mbB, Munich, Germany, explained in his talk that a new version of the Novel Food Regulation will come into force in January 2018. However, in his opinion, this will only worsen an already bad situation.

Foodstuffs which have not been used to a significant extent for human consumption in the European Union before 15 May 1997 and fall under one of four categories have to be approved. These four case groups were born out of emergency before 1997, Hagenmeyer explained, without a practical evaluation and are, therefore, in his opinion arbitrary. Further case groups are now added. An evaluation took place but seems not to have interested.

The law gives the food industry the advantage of being able to solely use a specific foodstuff, but it does not assure consumer safety. There are lots of novel foods approved which are not novel foods at all, Hagenmeyer says.


[1] Webpage of Evolva; accessed November 2016.
[2] De novo production of resveratrol from glucose or ethanol by engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Mingji Li, Kanchana R. Kildegaard, Yun Chen, Angelica Rodriguez, Irina Borodina, Jens Nielsen, Metabolic Eng. 2015, 32. DOI: 10.1016/j.ymben.2015.08.007


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