Launches of omega-3 fatty acid ingredients flourished at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition last year. Expect more omega-3 unveilings at "The Best of Food Thinking 2008," the I.F.T.’s annual event scheduled for June 28 to July 2 in New Orleans.
Statistics from The Nielsen Co., New York, show why food and beverage companies might seek to add omega-3 fatty acids in new ways and into new categories. U.S. sales of products with omega-3 fatty acid claims on the packaging reached $1.2 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 19, a 51% increase from the previous 52-week period.
Awareness has grown, too, according to the "2008 Foundation Food & Health Survey" from the International Food Information Council, Washington. The web-based survey revealed 72% of Americans were aware of omega-3 fatty acids in 2008, up from 71% in 2007 and 63% in 2006.
Heart health ranks as one main benefit for omega-3 fatty acid inclusion. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, said Dr. Chet Rao, sales and marketing manager of functional and nutritional products for Hormel Specialty Foods, Austin, Minn.
Phytosterols, meanwhile, benefit heart health by blocking dietary absorption of cholesterol. Hormel researchers have found combining phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids may create a synergistic effect for heart health. Hormel thus has created a patented technology to include omega-3 fatty acids and phytosterols in one ingredient, Mr. Rao said.
"It is not as simple as mixing these two components," he said. "We have a patented technology that we are offering on a case-by-case basis that combines free phytosterols with omega-3s."
Phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids already appear as separate ingredients in some products, with the Aristo Wellness bars being one example. Product literature explains how encapsulated omega-3 fatty acids promote better brain function, promote healthy joints and protect against cardiovascular disease and how the plant sterols are clinically proven to help reduce cholesterol.
Cognis Nutrition & Health offers Heart Choice natural phytosterols and Omevital omega-3 fatty acids, which were launched at last year’s I.F.T. event.
"Omega-3 fish oil can be used in combination with other hearthealthy ingredients such as plant sterols," said Dr. David Cai, research manager/principal scientist for Cognis Nutrition & Health. "Several studies proved a combination effect for omega-3 and plant sterols. The only caution is not to combine omega-3 with blood thinning medications."
A fish oil smell and a shorter shelf life both may become problems for a product when incorporating omega-3 fatty acids. To overcome these two issues, Hormel Foods Specialty Products Division tried different encapsulation methods for its Eterna omega-3 ingredient, which was launched at last year’s I.F.T. event.
"We found that none of the existing microencapsulation technologies provided the superior benefit that Hormel is accustomed to," Mr. Rao said.
Now, the company is working on its own encapsulation method.
"We want to improve the shelf stability of products by 50%," Mr. Rao said.
The company plans for encapsulated emulsions for beverages such as juices and smoothies and encapsulated dry powders for such products as condiments and spice blends.
Other encapsulated technologies for omega-3 fatty acids are on the market. Ocean Nutrition Canada, Dartmouth, N.S., uses its patented micro-encapsulation technology Powder-loc for inclusion of its Meg-3 ingredient in such applications as baked foods, milk, yogurt, juice, nutrition bars and confectionery products. The Wright Group, Crowley, La., offers SuperCoat Omega-3 technology and plans to have soy-based chicken nuggets with omega-3 fatty acids at its I.F.T. booth this year.
Omega Protein, Houston, plans to release its own version of omega-3 fatty acid encapsulated powder later this year, said Damon Dickinson, director of sales for OmegaPure, a branded line of omega-3 fatty acid ingredients. The encapsulated powder will be designed for foods or beverages with a longer shelf life.
"The encapsulated powder is ideal for this type of application as it offers added protection from oxidation, which is accelerated during storage and by other minerals generally used in fortification," Mr. Dickinson said.
Omega Protein also this year launched OmegaPure S made from stearine, a solid fish fat.
"It is ideal for food applications that require higher melting fats like margarines, shortenings and baked goods," Mr. Dickinson said.
A source from Mexico
Instead of omega-3 fatty acids, many people may recognize chia seeds as the main ingredient in the old Chia Pet, or "the pottery that grows." Today, the future of chia seeds might be in omega-3 applications. Chiaseed oil is 64% alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a kind of omega-3 fatty acid, said Jose Cuevas, general director for Mexico City-based Fuentenatura, an importer, exporter, seller and distributor of natural products.
This year Valensa International, Eustus, Fla., launched ChiaMax omega-3 milled whole grain, and Navitas Naturals, Novato, Calif., now offers chia whole seed and sprouted whole seed powder.
Chiaseed oil has a light, nutty flavor that may be masked with other flavors, Mr. Cuevas said. Chia seed (Salvia hispanica) has been grown in Mexico since the days of the Aztecs and Mayans, he said. Chia growers today ask for guaranteed prices that are higher than those of traditional grains such as corn, wheat and soy, Mr. Cuevas said.
"If demand continues growing, after a breaking point, increased demand may trigger crop land surface growth and may flip over the current situation, making chia more available, in larger quantities and at lower prices," he said. "We expect this to happen in three to five years."
Flaxseed ranks as a major source of ALA in foods today. Flaxseed oil is about 57% ALA, according to the Flax Council of Canada, Winnipeg, Man. Several recent omega-3 fatty acid innovations have involved flaxseed.
Pizzey’s Nutritionals, Inc., Angusville, Man., promoted its new Meadow-Pure 03 Ultra at last year’s I.F.T. event. The ingredient includes all three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in ALA, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Avatar Corp., University Park, Ill., will launch its ProEssential Omega-3 flax ingredient at this year’s I.F.T. event.
E.T. Horn, La Mirada, Calif., on June 16 announced that Enreco, Inc., Sheboygan Falls, Wis., has selected the company to represent and distribute Enreco’s full line of flaxseed products, including HiOmega flax oil and Flax-It nuggets.