Coating Agents as Functional Food

An upcoming trend in the Bakery Product Industry

By Pallavi Jaiswal *

A modified food that claims to improve health or well-being by providing benefit beyond that of the traditional nutrients it contains is a Functional Food. As a working definition, a food can be said to be functional if it contains a component (whether or not a nutrient) that benefits one or a limited number of functions in the body in a targeted way that is relevant to either maintaining the state of well-being and health. or the reduction of the risk of a disease, or if it has physiologic or psychologic effects beyond the traditional nutritional effects. Functional foods have one or more physiological benefits and reduce the risk of chronic diseases beyond providing basic nutrition to human beings.

So far, functional food ingredients have been brought to the consumers mainly through dairy or confectionery products. This is one of the reasons for the higher cost of functional foods than their conventional counterparts and, therefore, they remain a part of daily diet of only economically sound consumers. On the other hand, bakery products are still relatively underdeveloped or ignored sector for delivering the functional food components to consumers.

Bakery products can provide the ideal matrix by which functionality can be transferred to the consumer in an economically and practically feasible way. Bakery products are cereal-based, and cereals are the cheapest source of hunger satisfaction and nutrition for poor people who are most vulnerable to nutrient deficiency. These products include breads, biscuits, cookies, rusks, buns, cakes, pastries, pizza, croissants, butterfly buns, and muffins, among others. Encouraging trends in consumption of these bakery products by population of lower, middle and high income groups in both urban and rural areas indicate vast scope for consideration of development of functional bakery products through fortification, enrichment, reformulation/alteration and enhancement. However, development of bakery products as functional foods that will guarantee product quality (sensory and storage ability) and high bioavailability in spite of their being subjected to high temperatures during baking are technological and scientific challenges.

Furthermore, functional foods are created through a variety of means, including: fortification with vitamins and or minerals to provide added health benefits (e.g. fortified soy beverages and fruit juices with calcium); and addition of bioactive ingredients (e.g. muffins with beta glucan, yogurts with probiotics and drinks with herb blends) or food additives. The most known food additives are antioxidants, bulking agents, food colouring, flavour enhancers, glazing agents, stabilisers, sweeteners, fillers, diluents, lubricants, flavouring agents and coating agents (edible films), among others. The greatest hurdle of the food industry is the limited shelf life of food products, due to a consequence of oxidation reactions such as degradation, enzymatic browning, and oxidative rancidity. One approach to reduce food deterioration is to use Edible Films or Coatings Agents for food products.

Edible films or coatings constitute thin layers of material that are suitable for consumption and which act as a barrier against different agents (water vapour, oxygen, and moisture). They help to improve the quality and extend the shelf life of fresh and processed foods. The addition of active compounds, such as antioxidants, to these films and coatings can enhance their Functional Properties and make them potentially applicable in food preservation.

Many researchers have studied the incorporation of antioxidants which affects the functional properties of different biopolymer films and coatings. Antioxidant agents from natural sources such as plant extracts, essential oils, and other components with antioxidant activity, like ?-tocopherol (fat-soluble antioxidant), ascorbic acid, or citric acid, have been widely studied individually or in combination, to replace synthetic antioxidants. Consumers have been demanding the use of fewer chemicals in minimally processed fruits and vegetables. Hence, the search for naturally occurring substances that can act as alternative antioxidants is essential. Antioxidants can prevent sensorial and nutritional quality loss and improve lipids stability to lengthen the shelf life of food products.

Essential oils are aromatic, natural antioxidants, and antimicrobial substances extracted from vegetables by physical means. They consist of a complex mixture of natural compounds; most of them contain a mixture of terpenes, terpenoids, phenolic acids, and other aromatic and aliphatic compounds, but their composition may vary depending on their origin. Because essential oils can lower lipid oxidation, their presence in food products could extend the shelf life. Coatings and films containing antioxidant agents constitute a natural and biodegradable alternative to chemical preservatives by acting as protective barriers and extending foods’ shelf life. The addition of antioxidant compounds to edible films and coatings can increase food safety and quality by inhibiting deterioration reactions of the food materials.

Apart from this, probiotics could be the bioactive solution for functional foods. Recently, probiotic incorporation in edible films or coating agents has become relatively popular amongst researchers and, consequently, this area has been studied thoroughly in the last few years.

Nowadays, the consumption of food products containing probiotics has increased worldwide with the shift to healthy diets and increased attention to personal wellbeing seen among a growing number of people. This trend has received a lot of attention from the food industries which are aiming to produce novel probiotic foods, and from researchers who are seeking to improve the existing methodologies for probiotic delivery and/or to develop and investigate new possible applications. In this sense, edible films and coatings are being studied as probiotic carriers with many applications. The beneficial traits of probiotic bacteria are vast. Some of those reported include vitamin production, cholesterol lowering, alleviation of lactose intolerance, cancer prevention, stimulation of the immune system, enhancement of bowel motility, relief from constipation, prevention and reduction of rotavirus and antibiotic associated diarrhoea.

Further to many other technologies like modified atmosphere packaging or active packaging, Functional Edible Coatings could be a promising approach for preserving the quality and increasing the safety of fresh products. Edible films and coatings are promising systems for the improvement of food quality, shelf life, safety, and functionality. They can be used as individual packaging materials, food coating materials, active ingredient carriers, and to separate the compartments of heterogeneous ingredients within foods.

For industrial use, it is necessary to conduct scientific research to identify the film-forming mechanisms of biopolymers to optimise their properties. It is also suggested that feasible studies be performed regarding the commercial uses of edible films and coatings by extending the results of research and development studies to commercialisation studies, such as new process evaluation, safety and toxicity determination, regulatory assessment, and consumer studies. Bioactive food packaging systems may provide health benefits to consumers. It is a novel approach in the concept of Functional Foods which proposes that any food that can provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains may be considered as Functional Food.

Project Leader, R&D; Tropilite Foods Pvt. Ltd.

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