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Functional Food
October 26, 2012   
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Bread enriched with selenium and meat products fortified with phytocompounds derived from cabbage are the results of research on what are known as functional foods conducted by researchers at the Gdańsk University of Technology in northern Poland.

It is widely believed that the hamburger is junk food. But its individual ingredients may be improved to turn it into a health-promoting product. To begin with, the bread roll, with is the main part of the hamburger, may be made healthier.

It has been known for a long time that bread made from European flour has low selenium content, in some cases several times lower than grain imported from America. But now there is a way to overcome this problem. The first loaves of bread containing soybeans enriched with selenium dioxide (SeO2) were baked last year as a result of more than 20 years of research by Prof. Wojciech Ambroziak from the ŁódĽ University of Technology and his collaboration with Agnieszka Bartoszek, Ph.D., from the Gdańsk University of Technology.

This functional food fortified with selenium—to make up for the deficiency of this element in a standard diet—was awarded a silver medal at the Innowacje 2011 trade fair held under the auspices of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Ministry of the Economy.

Another ingredient of the hamburger, fried—and not necessarily lean—meat, contributes to hypertension, diabetes and cancer. But the burger can also be turned into functional food by fortifying it with phytocompunds derived from cabbage. Researchers at the Gdańsk University of Technology have developed and patented a recipe for the production of cured meats with such phytocompunds. Cured meats with cabbage-derived phytocompounds are now produced on an industrial scale and sold under the name Brassica.

“This is a world-class innovation in terms of using advanced research in the biomedicine sector for the needs of designing food with health properties,” says Bartoszek. “It is an example of translational research—from the laboratory to the store shelf. We have taken advantage of the anti-cancer properties of the cabbage phytocompounds, which either eliminate or reduce the action of what is harmful and unhealthy in meat and its products without undermining their quality.”

The Brassica cured meats contain a multitude of health ingredients. The use of cabbage makes it possible to reduce the amount of salt added to the meat by 30 percent.

In Poland, projects aiming to combine plants and meat are still in their infancy. Researchers in Norway are a step ahead, having launched a 10-year government-funded research program called Bionaer. The project is expected to stimulate the country’s economic growth through the development of the food industry based on biotechnology. Nofima, the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fishery and Aquaculture, is taking part in the project.

According to Bartoszek, functional food could contribute to the development of the agri-food sector. This was one of the leading topics of a panel discussion held at a conference organized by the Gdańsk Science and Technology Park two years ago that focused on business clusters. The aim was to encourage businesses operating in the agri-food sector to work with universities and undertake joint research and application projects, while benefiting from European Union structural funds available under the Innovative Economy Operational Program and the 7th Framework Program.

Zbigniew Nowak, the owner of a meat-processing plant in the Pomerania region and president of the Association of Polish Butchers and Meat Processors, has launched the production of several varieties of Brassica cured meats.

Among the food producers who have taken an interest in functional food is also the Polskie Piekarnie i Cukiernie company. Its vice-president, Grzegorz Pellowski, a baker and pastry cook and head of the Bakers’ Guild in Gdańsk, has encouraged his colleagues to start a joint project with researchers. They are now working together on the production process for selenium-fortified bread and its promotion.

Gdańsk University of Technology researchers also work closely with a number of small businesses in the region. These include beekeepers Pasieka Dębowa in Dębogórze near Gdynia, a producer of honey and honey-based products—among them a variety of mead enriched with health-promoting fruit ingredients.

In turn, the Fungopol company, which operates in the Kashubia area, makes preserves from Cornelian cherries, the fruit of the sea-buckthorn, blackthorn and other plants that grow in the wild and have been forgotten by the food industry. Work is well advanced on developing marinades for meat for barbecue under a joint project carried out by the university and Fungopol. The marinades are expected to reduce, by 70-85 percent, the amount of carcinogens—or substances causing cancer—which appear on the surface of meat at high temperatures.

Sometimes joint projects by researchers and businesses produce unexpected results. One example is an innovative machine for the pasteurization and sterilization of liquid products developed and manufactured by the Enbio Technology Sp. z o.o. company in Gdynia. Called Microwave Flow Sterilizer EnbioJet, the machine is used by laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and producers of fruit and vegetable products, pastry, milk products, food concentrates, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in Poland and abroad.

The Gdańsk University of Technology is not the only Polish university that deals with research into bio-inspired food and the effect that such food has on the human body. The Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences has received zl.1.5 million from the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR) for a project related to obtaining bioactive fats and peptides as active components of functional foods and nutraceuticals.

Aleksandra Duda-Chodak, Ph.D., from the Department of Fermentation Technology and Technical Microbiology at the Cracow University of Agriculture, is working on interactions between microorganisms that live in the human digestive tract and functional food ingredients with antioxidative properties. At the same university, Adam ¦widerski, Ph.D., from the Faculty of Horticulture, is conducting research into the biochemical characteristics of carotenoid isomers and their role as functional food ingredients.

The Department of Cereal Crop Production at the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation in Puławy, 100 km southeast of Warsaw, is researching the quality of grain used for consumption, as feed and for industrial purposes. Finally, the Department of Functional Food and Commodities at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW) is carrying out a project called Biofood – Innovative, Functional Products of Animal Origin.

Adam Grzybowski
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