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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Spotlight: plant-based actives


Scientists from R&D consultancy Sagentia Innovation say phytochemicals can accelerate the food and beverage clean label agenda, but technical solutions are needed to maximise their impact


Heightened consumer demand for clean labels enhances the appeal of phytochemicals (also known as plant-based actives). More than 10,000 of these substances, which cause various physiological effects in the human body, have been identified.

The impact of caffeine, a psychoactive stimulant, is well known. Other substances include the sensates menthol, gingerol, and capsaicin, derived from mint, ginger, and chili pepper, which trigger cooling, tingling, or heat sensations respectively. Plant-based actives also encompass flavours, fragrances, and sweeteners which work by activating taste and scent receptors.

Despite a long history of use in food, plant-based actives can present difficulties in FMCG applications. From a performance perspective, they may be less potent and stable than synthetic counterparts, as seen with some natural colours. Additional problems include the off notes or bitterness associated with some plant-based actives, with masking agents required to smooth out the flavour. Food and beverage companies need to harness technical solutions which optimise delivery of the intended effect without compromising clean label potential or product performance.

Technologies to facilitate innovation

The science-led techniques of encapsulation and food matrix modification can be applied to overcome the above challenges and enable more effective use of plant-based actives. These solutions improve control of the delivery mechanism to maximise ingredients’ impact.

Encapsulation protects the active ingredient against environmental degradation caused by oxygen and light. This improves factors such as stability and ease of application, and it is already commonly used by flavour and fragrance suppliers.

Modification of food matrices can enable sustained release of phytochemicals. So, solubility might be controlled to modulate the release profile and ensure the active substance is absorbed orally while chewing.

Plant-based actives used in food and beverage applications can enter the body via the digestive tract, skin, and oral mucosa, but level of uptake varies. R&D strategies need to identify the most effective route to deliver the desired effect with a given ingredient. For instance, while sensate phytochemicals are typically delivered through the oral mucosa, flavours are delivered through taste and scent receptors in the mouth and nose.

Ingredient manufacturers offer a growing range of plant-based actives which can be used to boost product differentiation and consumer engagement. Largescale food and beverage use of these substances requires close collaboration between consumer scientists, bioscientists, product formulators and regulatory experts. Achieving the intended effect is not always straightforward, but techniques like encapsulation and food matrix modification can make a significant difference.

Sagentia Innovation has the necessary depth and breadth of skills to drive comprehensive and focused R&D surrounding the effective use of plant-based actives. We have a passion for bringing new technologies, ingredients, processes, and products to market and a strong track record in the food and beverage sector.

Below: Louise Byrne is a Scientist and Mark Cohen, a Principal Consultant, at R&D Consultancy Sagentia Innovation



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