• Tungsteno

The challenge of putting nanofoods on the table

From beer containers that hold gases better to sensors that change colour to indicate the ripeness of fruit. While nanotechnology promises to revolutionise the food industry, there are some barriers to getting nanofoods onto supermarket shelves.



Nanotechnology makes it possible to modify elements at the nanometre scale and vary their constituent characteristics. First we looked at how it is revolutionising the construction and textile sectors, and then we analysed its impact on the health industry and pharmacologyAnd now we delve into the potential of applying these processes to food. In addition to modifying properties such as texture, taste or colour, nanotechnology can help products stay fresh or change their nutritional properties. We review several cutting-edge projects and explore why, at least for the time being, their arrival in supermarkets is a very complex challenge.


More nutritious and healthier foods


Most of the nanotechnological processes that have been developed around food modification are related to nanobioengineering. This is the modification of the biological structures of foods to improve their propertiesThis makes it a potential area for nutrition, as it allows for the improvement of certain digestive processes in which nutrients are absorbed from food.

One of the main objectives when incorporating ‘nano-innovation’ into nutrition is to improve the bioavailability, stability and solubility of certain nutritional compounds such as proteins, vitamins and carbohydratesTo do this, a technique known as nanoencapsulation is used, which consists of including nutrients within nanomolecules to improve their absorption, protect them from hostile processes and help them reach their destination in better condition.

"Nanomaterials allow for better encapsulation and more efficient release of active food ingredients compared to traditional encapsulation agents," says University of Florida's Yun-Hwa Peggy Hsieh, PhD. This technique has been used, for example, to add the Omega-3 contained in fish oil to baked goods (such as bread), thereby avoiding the strong odour and taste typical of this product.


Nanoencapsulation allows nutrients to be transported and delivered to their destination more efficiently. Image: Flickr.


Nanotechnology is also capable of transforming everyday foods into healthier alternatives. At the University of Nottingham in the UK, they have managed to modify salt crystals on a nanometric scale in order to enhance their flavour over a smaller surface area. In this way, one can use less of this condiment and save oneself some of the health problems it can cause. In fact, the researchers claim that salt consumption can be reduced by up to 90% without changing the taste.


Extending shelf life and avoiding wastage


One of the biggest challenges facing the food production industry, from cultivation and production to the important role of consumers, is food waste. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that around one third of all food produced is wasted—that is, some 1.3 billion tonnes a year.

In this respect, nanotechnology can also be an ally of the sector. In addition to prolonging the freshness of products through nanobioengineering, it can be used to include nanomaterials in packaging in order to preserve the product for longer. In the first case, nanostructured systems or materials have been developed such as edible coatings or films that act as a barrier to external agents related to food spoilage; for example, moisture, oxygenation or microbes. Edible nanocoatings have been successfully tested to protect fruits and vegetables from spoilage.


Some sensors can detect substances given off by the fruit as it decomposes and change colour to indicate its degree of ripeness. Image: Ripesense.


In the field of packaging, nanotechnology has been used to modify the mechanical properties of surfaces, making them more impermeable or resistant to changes in the environment. One of the most studied materials is clay nanoparticles, used to create highly efficient packaging at an affordable cost. Nanoclay can improve packaging for beer or soft drinks, as it is more effective at retaining gases than conventional plastics.

Nanobiosensors that are being developed for the medical or defence industry can also be incorporated into food packaging. These devices use nanotechnology to detect compounds with high sensitivity, so they could alert consumers to the presence of different elements released by food as it breaks downSuch sensors can also change colour to warn consumers if a product is in poor condition or has deteriorated. Although not yet seen in supermarkets, they are already being developed by some companies in Australia and New Zealand and have become one of the most promising applications in the packaging sector.


The difficult road to the supermarket shelf


Despite all the promise of nanotechnology, there are still many obstacles to nanofoods succeeding in the marketplace and transferring their benefits from the laboratory to real life. The main stumbling block is the lack of research into the risks that nanotech applications may pose after consumption. This is especially true for products modified through inorganic nanoparticles with silver, titanium and metal oxides.

Some scientists are studying the effects of the possible accumulation of these particles in the human body and to what extent the system is able to dissolve and dispose of them. "There are thousands of nanosafety studies, but very few of them can be used for risk assessment," Kai Savolainen, director of the Nanosafety Research Centre at the Finnish Institute for Occupational Health, told The Guardian.

The barriers to bringing all of these solutions to market in the short to medium term have meant that large companies that were committed to such developments at the beginning of this century have stopped researching them. A better understanding of the potential toxicity of these applications would allow countries to advance the regulatory framework to bring these products to supermarket shelves around the world.


· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Nanotechnology
  • Tech

We use our own and third party cookies for analytical purposes. Click on HERE for more information. You can accept all cookies by clicking the "Accept" button or set them up or refuse their use by clicking.

Cookie declaration

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be disabled in our systems. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.

Name Provider Purpose Expiration Type
LFR_Sesión_STATE_* Liferay Manage your session as a registered user Session HTTP
GUEST_LANGUAGE_ID Liferay Determines the language with which it accesses, to show the same in the next session 1 year HTTP
ANONYMOUS_USER_ID Liferay Manage your session as an unregistered user 1 year HTTP
COOKIE_SUPPORT Liferay Identifies that the use of cookies is necessary for the operation of the portal 1 year HTTP
JSesiónID Liferay Manages login and indicates you are using the site Session HTTP
SACYRGDPR Sacyr Used to manage the cookie policy Session HTTP

These cookies allow us to count visits and sources of circulation in order to measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us know which pages are the most or least popular, and see how many people visit the site. All information collected by these cookies is aggregated and therefore anonymous.

Name Provider Purpose Expiration Type
_gat Google It is used to throttle the request rate - limiting the collection of data on high traffic sites Session HTTP
_gid Google It is used to store and update a unique value for each page visited Session HTTP
_ga Google This is used for statistical and analytical purposes for increasing performance of our Services Session HTTP