Berries boost brain power
Had one too many "senior moments"? Well, research from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service is showing that foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, can slow the diminished function of the brain that often occurs with aging.

Psychologist Barbara Shukitt-Hale, neuroscientist James Joseph, and psychologist Amanda Carey of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and their colleagues at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County conducted the ARS-funded research on how certain antioxidants from foods affect brain function.

For three months, the researchers studied three groups of 20 rats each. The control group received a standard diet of grain-based chow, the second group received chow with blueberry extract equal to one cup daily intake for humans, and the third group was fed chow with strawberry extract equal to one pint daily intake for humans. After two months on the diets, half of the rats in each group (control, blueberry supplemented, and strawberry supplemented) were treated to induce the normal losses in learning and motor skills that often come with aging. These are the rats referred to as "aged" by the researchers. The research showed that compared to the aged-control rats, the aged-but-supplemented rats faired better in memory-related tests. Additionally, the aged-control rats had lower levels of dopamine release than the non-aged-control rats. These decreases in dopamine release were not seen in the rats that were supplemented with the strawberry or blueberry extracts, whether the rats were aged or not.

Water mobility examined
Researchers at Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne, Switzerland, recently released information about their investigations of the organization and mobility of water in amorphous and crystalline trehalose at the molecular level.

In years past, scientists have observed that living organisms like baker’s yeast can be successively dehydrated and rehydrated without losing their viability. During dehydration, baker’s yeast produces high levels of trehalose, a non-reducing disaccharide formed from two glucose units. Scientists believe that trehalose is a key factor in biopreservation and that interactions with the microorganism at a molecular level are involved; however, the mechanics of this molecular process at the micro level remain largely unknown.

The researchers studied how dehydration functions at the molecular level. They used Positron Annihilation Lifetime Spectroscopy to study the free volume in trehalose and demonstrate that changes in free volume are connected with molecular organization and mobility of water in the crystalline and amorphous states. These results suggest a new approach to take in studying the survival mechanism of microorganisms under conditions of extreme temperature or dehydration, the researchers said.

This research was part of Nestlé Research Center’s collaboration with the University of Bristol UK to study the molecular physics of carbohydrates. According to scientists with these two organizations, having an understanding of carbohydrate physics at the molecular level may lead to technological advances in the storage of bioactive proteins, probiotics, and nutrients. Additionally, this knowledge may foster the development of ways to control certain properties in foods that contribute to their quality, stability, and nutritional value.

Companies form partnership
David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. Pa., and SPI Polyols Inc., New Castle, Del., have partnered to promote the use of MaltisweetIC Maltitol Syrup for no-sugar-added and reduced-sugar ice cream applications.

David Michael is a global supplier of flavors, stabilizers, and natural colors, and SPI Polyols is a supplier of specialty polyols.

Many consumers are looking for alternatives to full-sugar ice cream for various health reasons such as diabetes or weight maintenance. Unfortunately, some consumers can taste the difference between the full-sugar versions and the other versions. The companies will use their marketing and research and development capabilities collaboratively to develop custom-tailored systems that provide the taste, texture, and sweetness of a full-sugar ice cream in no-sugar-added and reduced-sugar applications.

Cadbury expands in Asia
Cadbury Schweppes Asia Pacific recently opened its first Regional Science & Technology Centre in Singapore as part of its strategic plans to continue and accelerate growth in key emerging markets.

The new facility, which will be located close to the company’s Asia Pacific Regional Headquarters, will house research and development capabilities for confectionery products. Researchers will also be able to explore new technologies that will enhance innovations in the confectionery market.

Cadbury and other companies are continuing to focus on emerging markets because of the market growth potential. According to the company, the Asia Pacific region contributed 18% of Cadbury’s revenues in 2005, and the region’s confectionery industry grew 8% over the last year, compared to a 5% average growth in developed markets.

Maine wins grant
The University of Maine recently received the Mettler Toledo Food Science Education Grant. The grant, which honors Erhard Mettler, the founder of part of the corporation known today as Mettler Toledo, consists of analytical equipment and accessories, balances, software, and a PC to establish or enhance the education in current and future collegiate food science programs.

The university was chosen by the grant review board over numerous applicants belonging to educational institutions in the United States and Canada that award degrees up to the Ph.D. level and provide or intend to provide education in the food sciences.

Alfred A. Bushway, Project Director and Professor of Food Science and a Professional Member of IFT, accepted the award on behalf of the university and expressed his gratitude to Mettler Toledo for choosing his university.

"In a small department such as ours, this generous equipment and training package will impact every student and every faculty member. This grant will allow for curriculum updates that further the development of our food science students by ensuring their professional capabilities with modern analytical tools routinely used in both public and private industry," he added.

The grant is awarded yearly. Qualified organizations are welcome to submit applications for the 2007 grant starting in January. Visit for more information.

Turmeric’s use in packaged pickles
A food technologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service has found that turmeric helps to reduce off-flavors in dill pickles packaged in plastic jars or pouches.

Roger McFeeters, along with Katherine Cleary, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, found that turmeric prevented the formation of aldehydes when the pickles were packaged under conditions that simulated plastic containment over time. Aldehydes are the compounds that cause oxidative off-flavors in pickled cucumbers.

They found that some aldehydes were present in pickles that were packed in the laboratory under airtight conditions, as well as in fresh-pack commercial pickle samples provided. Excessive production of aldehydes occurred when they injected oxygen into the same packaged pickles. Using other similar samples, the researchers then added turmeric in an amount typically used commercially as a coloring agent and oxygen in an amount comparable to that which would enter a sealed plastic container over a one-year storage period.

The results showed that the amounts of aldehydes produced in the pickles treated with turmeric were maintained at concentrations similar to those amounts present in high-quality commercial pickle products. The researchers said that this indicates that turmeric is an effective antioxidant for fresh-pack dill pickles.

There is a growing interest among pickled vegetable processors to pack their products in plastic packages because plastic containers are lighter in weight, do not break, and are easier to open. The shelf life of food products stored in plastic containers is often shorter than that of products stored in glass containers, partly because the gas-permeable plastic allows oxygen to seep through over time. Findings such as these from the ARS research could lead to the discovery or development of additional ingredients that can serve as preservatives of foods packaged in plastic containers.

Unilever sells business
Unilever, Rotterdam, Netherlands, recently signed an agreement to sell the majority of its European Frozen Foods business to the Permira Funds. The frozen foods operations in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, and the UK are included in the transaction.

"The Frozen Foods business has been great for Unilever over many decades, with tremendous products, iconic brands, and memorable advertising delivering value for our shareholders," said Patrick Cescau, Group Chief Executive of Unilever. "Having taken the decision to focus our portfolio on other priorities, I am confident that the business will prosper under the dedicated and focused management that the Permira Funds will bring."

The transaction is subject to regulatory approval and consultation with employee works councils and is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor 
[email protected]