Food is not the first field that comes to mind when looking for opportunities
to apply the results of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Most people like their
food natural and do not want too much technology to be involved. Yet, upon
closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the food industry, society and, more
importantly, the individual consumer can benefit from applications of
When we study food materials under a microscope it is clear that foodstuff
usually has a structural hierarchy that ranges from the macro level, where we
enjoy our foods, via intermediate levels to the micro and nanolevels.
It is important to realize that virtually all food products are made up of
nanostructures. It is therefore logical that, when you want to improve certain
properties of a food product, you often have to consider what is happening at
With the advent of nanotechnology, new tools have become available and food
researchers now have the means to really understand the processes that take
place at the molecular and supramolecular levels and to modify them.
The food industry is eager to use the newly acquired possibilities and
understanding to create new products and processes that can contribute to
solutions for some of the challenges that the food industry is facing.
With the growing and increasingly wealthy world population more food products
of higher quality will be necessary, but our planet cannot sustain the
production systems that traditionally have been used to produce high protein
products like meat.
With nanotechnology, new products from plant proteins can be developed that
have a structural hierarchy of meat but do not require an animal, a very
inefficient and highly polluting food production process.
Improving food quality and safety is a constant point of attention within the
food industry and the incidence of food or water related health problems
indicate that there is considerable room for improvement.
Micro- and nanotechnologies can provide the measurement technology with which
quality monitoring can be done faster, cheaper, more accurately and without a
high tech lab and highly qualified personnel.
So when we have produced enough high quality food, the next challenge is to
match the needs of the biochemistry of the individual consumer to the
nutritional content of the food products he or she is going to eat.
Not only does this challenge require nanotechnology enabled devices to
monitor the biochemistry of the consumer, it also demands the development of
food products that can meet the nutritional needs. For some of the nutrients,
encapsulation is required to deliver them where they have most effect.
We want our food fresh and natural, but have become addicted to the
convenience of pre-cooked products and do not want to spend a lot of time in the
New packaging concepts, relying on nanotechnologies for certain attributes,
can help to realize these highly contradictory requirements.
Consumer acceptance is of paramount importance when e use of nanotechnology
in foods is involved. Although virtually all food products are made up of
nanostructures and it is almost impossible to eat something that has not been
modified with some technology, consumers still are convinced that food must be
natural and that technology makes it unnatural.
There is also the misconception that nanotechnology is the same as
nanoparticles and that all nanoparticles represent a health risk.
Communication about the use of the technology and willingness to discuss the
concerns of the consumers is an important way towards building trust and
acquiring a 'license to produce' for nano-improved food products.
Copyright AZoNano.com, Dr. Frans Kampers (Wageningen BioNT