Snack Size Science: Crystal balls and salt crystals

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Snack Size Science: Crystal balls and salt crystals

Related tags Snack size science Sodium chloride Salt

FoodNavigator's Snack Size Science brings you the week's top science. This week Nestle gives us a glimpse of the future with its research into hydrogels to deliver flavour and nutrients to food, and salt is back in the headlines with Swiss worries and Purac’s solutions.

The following is a transcript of this podcast:

This is FoodNavigator’s Snack Sized Science​. I’m Stephen Daniells - bringing you the week’s top science in digestible amounts.

Crystals of one form or another have been in the headlines this week. Nestlé got out its crystal ball and gave us a glimpse of the future with the potential of self-assembled emulsion droplets to deliver flavours and nutrients.

The approach, which can apparently be applied to any food, taps into the potential of hydrogels. These are materials made up of long chain molecules which cross-link to form a kind of lattice with lots of small empty spaces between the cross-links. These spaces can then absorb flavour or bioactive compounds much like a sponge absorbing water.

As the hydrogel structure biodegrades it can then can release the trapped ingredient gradually.

Nestlé’s crystal ball may tell us what we can expect, but not when to expect it. A spokesperson for the world’s largest food company said that commercial food applications of these hydrogels are still a long way off.

A crystal of another sort was also in the news this week as Swiss scientists reported that the salt content of their compatriots’ diet is almost double the level recommended by the UN’s World Health Organisation. Many scientists are convinced that such intakes put you at an increased risk of high blood pressure, and ultimately other unsavoury ​complications such as heart disease and stroke.

Findings published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition listed breads, cheeses, cooked meats, soup and ready meals as the main offenders behind the nation’s high salt intake. The findings have left a bitter taste in the mouth of Swiss policy makers, and Dr Michael Beer, who heads the country’s Federal Office of Public Health told me that action is on its way in the form of a new salt strategy.

Ranking high on the list of initiatives is engaging the food industry to reduce the salt content of the food. While many studies have looked at what effect this would have on flavour, fewer have looked at the effect of cutting salt on the safety ​of products. One study this week did just that. Researchers from Purac Biochem, using the company’s Purasal OptiForm ingredient, looked at the quality and safety of meat products with reduced salt.

According to a paper in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, the company’s ingredient, which is a mixture of potassium lactate and sodium diacetate, could replace up to 40 per cent of the sodium chloride in the meat without negatively affecting taste. What’s more, the shelf life of the meats could be extended by a tasty 40 days.

And for a study concerning salt, that’s pretty sweet.

For FoodNavigator’s Snack Size Science​, I’m Stephen Daniells.

To read our full coverage of these studies, please click on the links below:

Nestle explores thermogel emulsions for flavour, nutrient delivery

High salt intakes in Switzerland may lead to federal action

Purac builds science for salt replacer in meats

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