Blueberries benefit brains
Blueberries benefit brains Blueberries and their effects on the brain are the center of attention of two separate research studies. Researchers report that they have learned how the fruit reduces inflammation and improves brain function.

Based on information learned from a cell-structure study, researchers with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass., discovered that blueberry extracts ease the inflammation that is produced when the brain’s immune cells respond to oxidative stress.

It is thought that overactivation of the brain’s immune cells, called microglia, leads to inflammation by sending out stress signals, which generate reactions that cause inflammation.

Using a rodent microglial cell line as a model, Francis Lau, a molecular biologist and lead author, exposed groups of test cells to various levels of blueberry extracts. Then he exposed them to a toxin that triggers the secretion of chemicals that cause inflammation. He reported that treating the cells with the blueberry extract significantly reduced the expression of genes that produce inflammatory enzymes.

Another study examined the effects of consuming blueberry extract on the brain of rats with a genetic mutation for promoting increased amounts of amyloid beta, the molecule that builds up as plaque in the brains of those suffering Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers, led by James Joseph, used three groups of rats: rats with brain plaque buildup were fed either a diet that included blueberry extract or a standard rat chow, and healthy rats (control) were fed standard rat chow.

The rats were 4 mo old—the equivalent of early adulthood in humans—at the beginning of the experiment. When the rats reached 12 mo—the equivalent of early middle age in humans—the researchers tested the rats in a maze. The rats with brain plaque buildup fed the blueberry extract performed as well as the control group and much better than the rats with brain plaque buildup fed the standard rat chow.

Additionally, the researchers learned that there was increased activity of kinases, including ERK and PKC, in the brains of the rats with brain plaque buildup that were fed the blueberry extract. These two kinases are important in maintaining cognitive function, such as conversion of short-term to long-term memory.

Caffeine contents examined
Caffeine, a naturally occurring chemical that gives people a jolt after drinking their morning coffee, is also added as an ingredient in many carbonated soft drinks. It is caffeine’s stimulatory and other physiological effects that drive the desire to know exactly how much of it is contained in these soft drinks, said researchers from Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

They analyzed the caffeine content of 56 national-brand and 75 private-label store-brand carbonated beverages. Some of the national brands tested included Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Tab, Barq’s Root Beer, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Faygo Cola, Dr Pepper, RC Cola, and Sunkist. Some of the private-label store brands analyzed were Big K Cola, Chek Cola, Publix Cola, Sam’s Cola, Dr Thunder, Bubba Cola, and Piggly Wiggly Cola.

Using high-performance liquid chromatography, the researchers found that the caffeine contents of the beverages ranged from 4.9 mg/12 oz (IGA Cola) to 74 mg/12 oz (Vault Zero). The results showed that most store-brand beverages contained less caffeine than their national-brand counterparts. For example, 12 oz of Coca-Cola contained 33.9 mg of caffeine, compared to 12.7 for Sam’s Cola; Diet Pepsi 36.7 vs 13.3 for Sam’s Diet Cola; Dr Pepper 42.6 vs 30.6 for Dr Thunder; and Mountain Dew 54.8 vs 46.5 for Mountain Lightning.

The researchers acknowledged that the wide range of caffeine contents may make it difficult to broadly generalize about the caffeine contents of the national and store brands. But they hope that the data can be used by USDA to expand its nutrient database so that consumers will have more information about the beverages. Earlier this year, PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., and Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Ga., announced that they would list the caffeine contents on can and bottles of many of their carbonated beverage brands sold in the United States.

The study appeared in the August 2007 issue of Journal of Food Science. For more information, visit and click on “Publications.”

Protecting food naturally
Addressing the need for greater food safety, food scientists and chemists at Rutgers University are developing natural ways to prevent food contamination and spoilage.

One of the developments is using natural antimicrobial agents derived from such herbs and spices as cloves, oregano, thyme, and paprika to create biodegradable polymers or plastics to potentially block the formation of bacterial biofilms on food surfaces and packaging.

The antimicrobial agents were incorporated into a biodegradable polymer “backbone.” “As they degrade in the presence of water and/or enzymes, they slowly release their active antimicrobials,” said Ashley Carbone, a Rutgers graduate student who constructed the polymer compounds that were tested. “A slow and controlled release of the food-based antimicrobial would offer great advantages in the food industry, providing protection over an extended time and extending the shelf-life of the food product.”

The researchers decided to focus on preventing the formation of biofilms rather than on attacking individual bacteria to avoid increasing the antimicrobial resistance of specific bacteria.

“The natural substances we chose have general antimicrobial activities against many different kinds of microorganisms,” said Kathryn Uhrich, a professor in the Dept. of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “Therefore, the polymers into which we incorporated these natural substances have the potential to affect a much broader spectrum of microorganisms than organism-specific drugs.”

Production capacity increased
Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, Middleboro, Mass., plans to add an additional 100,000 sq ft to the company’s Wisconsin Rapids sweetened dried cranberry production plant.

Completion of the construction is expected in 2009. The new plant will have the capacity to produce more than 30 million lb of sweetened dried cranberries/year. The company said that the demand for the ingredient has grown by double digits during the past few years.

Chr. Hansen focuses on health
Chr. Hansen, Hørsholm, Denmark, recently formed a new business division with a focus on human health, citing strong growth in probiotics last year as leading to the decision.

The new division reinforces the company’s focus on discovering and developing innovative probiotic applications for the non-food market.

“We have over the last couple of years seen significant growth in our human health business area and identified new and exciting areas for probiotic applications,” said Lars Frederiksen, President and CEO.

The company has also reorganized its cultures and enzymes areas into one organization call Innovation, which will focus on customer-driven innovation.

Refined-wheat bread preferred
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that people preferred refined-wheat bread to whole-wheat bread. The researchers gave a taste test to 89 people who rated their liking of nine different breads chosen to represent several comparisons between equivalent refined-wheat and whole-wheat breads. The subjects also rated the intensity of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) and completed a questionnaire about their bread preferences and purchasing habits. The researchers classified the participants by their bread preference and their PROP taster status, then examined the liking patterns of these subgroups.

They found that people preferred refined-wheat bread to whole-wheat bread when both were made using equivalent ingredients and procedures. Tasters liked the commercial samples of refined- and whole-wheat breads equally well. When people were classified by their bread preference, those who preferred refined-wheat bread liked the refined-wheat bread better in all comparisons.

The researchers concluded that sensory preferences are a barrier to whole-wheat bread consumption, but ingredient or processing modifications can improve liking of whole-wheat bread to the level of refined-wheat bread.

The study was presented in the September 2007 issue of Journal of Food Science.

For more information, visit and click on “Publications.”

Blue Pacific chooses sales agent
Blue Pacific Flavors, City of Industry, Calif., recently entered the Mexican market with its appointment of Aditivos Internacionales as its exclusive sales agent for the country. The company imports and commercializes commodities for use in many different products, including foods and beverages.

by Karen Nachay,
Assistant Editor
[email protected]