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Encapsulation:- an essential technology for functional food applications

By Denis Poncelet, ENITIAA, UMR CNRS 6144, 44322 Nantes cedex, France

Since the last world war more than 60 years ago, we assisted in a revolution on the improvement of production methods leading to an abundance of food in our occidental countries unknown to mankind before. Our fridge is full! This abundance is also associated with a diversification of the foodstuffs. Some products formerly considered as "luxury" find their place in our quasi daily food (salmon, duck fillet …); fruits and vegetables reach us from all over the world.

The abundance has driven people to request more from the food they eat over and above energy supply; for example, to provide safety, health, and why not--- fun.

‘Food mutation’ However, there is another equally important revolution in our society. From traditional and familial "cuisine", we have moved to industrial cooking, to consume as catering (fast food) or to bring back home. Recomposed powders, mixes, storage period extension, and the need for innovation have fundamentally modified the handling foodstuffs. It is simpler and less costly for industry to transport, store and rehydrate dried powders than to transport hydrated food products. Unfortunately, dehydratation often has negative effects on the texture, flavour and solubility of the rehydrated food. It is frequently necessary to supply food powders with their inherent aromas, vitamins, and other properties. In this context and application microencapsulation has become a highly important tool for food process engineers. Protection during storage or

processing, released at the right time and place (e.g. during cooking), the encapsulated additive will provide all its potential to the food.

Vitamin A Vitamin is deficient in Asian foods and has to be supplied. The initial proposal was to incorporate vitamin A into glutamate, a taste enhancer used in these countries. However, Vitamin A is yellow and turns brown on oxidation while glutamate salt must be white to be appreciated by customers. Coating Place (USA) has developed a process for coating particles of vitamin A, colorizing them in white, while offering protection against oxygen, humidity and light.

Pro- and prebiotics Traditional foods contain many different bacteria beneficial for health. However, the pasteurization and long-term storage leads to food with a reduced concentration of these bacteria. It was then proposed to supplement food with selected health-support bacteria, i.e. probiotics. However, the most efficient ones are generally fragile cells and need protection, for example, by microencapsulation. In the frame of a European project (MEPPHAC), we have demonstrated that coating probiotics can enhance their survival by a factor 20 during warm pellet extrusion. Microencapsulation allows the mixing of probiotics with materials promoting their growth and attachment in the intestine (i.e. prebiotics). It is then possible to develop optimum cocktails of probiotics and prebiotics in a single formulation called synbiotics.

Spices and herbs Aromas, spices and herbs constitute the core of pleasure-linked cuisine and eating. However, they also represent the first natural functional foods. They interact with the other food ingredients during storage, freezing, and pre-cooking resulting, sometimes, in off flavours and loss of health potential properties. Microencapsulation protects them during these stages

while releasing them, for example, during cooking. Microencapsulation offers, therefore, a unique approach for maintaining optimum quality and nutritive status in a range of foodstuffs.

New properties and functions Encapsulation is a performing tool that confers new properties to normal materials. Obtaining a stable functional ingredient is inadequate if it cannot be easily integrated in the food.

Many vitamins, plant extracts and unsaturated acids are hydrophobic and dispersing them in hydrophilic food powders is a real challenge. In addition to protecting them, microencapsulation allows their conversion to suitable and managable powders. Similary, by encapsulation, brown sugar can be converted to a free flowing powder, suspended with hydrophobic vitamins in juice, or dispersed in cocoa or in cold milk.

Unsaturated fatty acids are recognized as beneficial for health. However, they sometimes have an unpleasant taste, which can become unacceptable when they are oxidized. Encapsulation largely overcomes this problem by taste masking. Moreover, incorporating flavours in the coating helps to make the functional food pleasant to consume. This is application is used extensively in pet food supply as animals will refuse off-flavored ingredients.

Functional food ingredients may be incorporated into food or may be consumed independently as pills or fine powder. This does not require a prescription from a doctor. However, consumers must be advised to limit their daily dose. This can be assisted by coating particles with a colouring material thus differentiating the nutraceutics from a drug or a food.

Listeria represents a high risk in processed meat. We have developed an encapsulation system consisting in a core containing two substrates

(glucose and thiocyanate), coated with two enzymes, and then protection polymers. In the dry form, the mix is stable for long periods, but on contact with moisture releases an end-product with high bacteriostatic properties against listeria.

Innovation tool Encapsulation can also be used as a tool for innovation. For example, Orbitz (Canada) sells a drink containing a suspension of coloured capsules containing different aromas and/or some vitamins, thus making functional food consumption a ‘fun experience’. Salvona (USA) has developed encapsulation technologies allowing sequential release of aromas and sensory ingredients in functional foods.

Finally, microencapsulation can be used as a biocatalyst immobilization system to process food in a safer and more efficient manner. For example, reduction of ripening time and increased shelf life of cheese by processing with an encapsulated enzyme.

The number of applications for microencapsulation technologies in foods, and especially functional food, is increasing. However, many challenges still remain. For example, incorporation of water sensitive ingredients in high moisture foods is not solved because most capsules impermeable to water are not soft and will be detected by consumers. In January 2008, BRG (see below) organized a workshop in Switzerland on flavour encapsulation. A consensus between the one hundred participants was that 83% of applications relate to one single technology (spray drying) and so there is a need for innovation.

Developing encapsulated functional foods

The principle of most technologies of encapsulation is quite simple:

Active ingredient is mixed within a polymer solution; dispersed as

fine droplets (spraying, dripping, emulsification); droplets solidified by gelation; drying; cooling; coacervation …

Or, when a solid powder, particles are mixed in a fluid bed or a pan; coating solution spray applied to them; solidify by drying or cooling. However, several constraints make the development of the encapsulation process difficult. Firstly, encapsulation is an extra cost, which has to be minimized. This applies to materials used to build the capsules but also to equipment or processing conditions. We have computed that continuous coating processes reduce the running cost by a factor 3 in comparison to equivalent batch processes.

Materials used for encapsulation in the food domain are very limited (some polysaccharides, a few lipids…). In pharmaceutical industries, despite the strict rules to be respected for approval, they have access to many more materials. In food, the engineer has to play finely with the formulation to achieve adequate properties in the membrane of the coating.

Most functional ingredients are sensible to water, oxygen, light and temperature. Materials must, therefore, offer barriers to water (hydrophilic) and oxygen. Careful temperature control during processing is a major requirement. Moving from the so-called Wurster coating process to a spouted bed process reduces temperature gradients (15ºC) in the reactor, thus increasing probiotic surviving by a factor two.

Developing an encapsulated product is, therefore, a challenge, requiring a multi-disciplinary and integrated approach. Many encapsulation technologies currently exist, but many of are still at the development stage. Finding the most suitable partners for such development and production is a hard task.

Finding support for developing encapsulated functional foods Fortunately, the scientific and industrial community are organizing themselves in this regard. The Bioencapsulation Research Group (BRG) ( is probably one of the largest non-profit associations on applied microencapsulation with 2000 members over 80 countries. It organizes conferences, industrial workshops and provides information through its web site and news. Its next international conference ( will take place in Dublin in September 2008. BRG will organize in the beginning of 2009 the largest industrial symposium and trade fair in the encapsulation field. The COST 865 programme/project ( is a European platform for exchanges between researchers and industrialists on developing collaborative projects in the microencapsulation area and for publishing thematic books on encapsulation.