Archive for the ‘Food Science & Nutrition’ Category

Nutritious Sea Vegetables

Monday, April 27th, 2015
Seaweed researchUniversity of Maine associate professor Denise Skonberg and graduate student Dhriti Nayyar are working with a Bristol company to study the shelf life and nutritional values of aquacultured sea vegetable products.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms, a startup based on the Damariscotta River, is one of five Maine companies to share $471,571 in Value Added Producer Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program. The federal grants were awarded in August 2014 to preserve rural jobs at companies that process and add value to agricultural products.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms received $71,673 to help “study the feasibility of delivering fresh aquacultured sea vegetable products to the marketplace using agricultural produce and seafood distribution systems,” in addition to helping it create a business plan, the USDA said. The funds also will help the company retain 21 jobs and create 10 more over the next decade.

To study the products, the company turned to Skonberg, a professor of food science and human nutrition in the School of Food and Agriculture. Skonberg and Nayyar are collecting baseline data on the length of time several species of sea vegetables can be considered fresh while under refrigeration. They also are conducting basic nutritional analyses to help meet nutritional labeling requirements.

Skonberg anticipates the study will provide key information about the nutritional benefits and shelf-life stability of four varieties of sea vegetables that are farm raised in Maine.

“This information will help the newly developing seaweed industry in Maine with marketing their products, and will help them make decisions about how best to harvest, handle, process, store and distribute products to their customers,” Skonberg says. “The results will promote the production of locally sourced, high-quality and nutritious seaweed products from Maine and help in job creation along the coast.”

Throughout the yearlong project, the researchers will look at four species of freshly harvested aquacultured seaweeds — sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), dulse (Palmaria palmata), Gracilaria, and winged kelp (Alaria) — grown on the company’s Clark Cove farm.

Basic nutritional analyses will be conducted on the raw sea vegetables on a wet weight basis — not dried — for use on nutrition labels. Samples of each species will be collected throughout the year during the time period that each would normally be available for harvest and sale. Using standard harvesting and handling procedures, Maine Fresh Sea Farms will transport the vegetables to UMaine where they will be refrigerated and then stored for up to 12 days, or until they are unfit for human consumption. Whole fronds along with a shredded seaweed salad version of three species — sugar kelp, winged kelp and dulse — will be periodically tested for quality.

Although some nutrient data already exist for dried sugar kelp and dulse, it has been shown that growing conditions, region, strain and time of harvest can affect the nutrient profile of sea vegetables, according to Skonberg. The sea vegetables will be assessed for basic nutrient composition — water, fat, protein, total minerals and carbohydrates.

The shelf-life studies will be conducted at two holding temperatures, one close to freezing at 35 F and another at 45 F, which is on the high end of normal holding temperatures.

The researchers will look at how each species performs at different temperatures and forms. Soluble protein content, which has been shown to be a good indicator of quality loss in fresh seaweed, will be monitored through protein analyses, Skonberg says.

An in-house sensory evaluation will be conducted by an experienced panel to assess quality deterioration of the whole fronds and seaweed salad. Panel members will rate aroma, texture, color and overall quality of the samples.

Nayyar has already conducted shelf-life studies on sugar kelp and dulse, and will be starting another shelf-life study on winged kelp this spring. The researchers have found that sensory evaluation, as well as instrumental color and texture were better indicators for assessing shelf life than microbial analyses.

The shelf life studies and basic nutritional analysis are expected to be completed in December 2015.

Maine Fresh Sea Farms also has worked with Maine Sea Grant, the Brawley Laboratory at UMaine, and the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.  One result of the collaborations is Sea Belt, a Scotch Ale brewed by Marshall Wharf Brewing in Belfast using dried sugar kelp grown at the Damariscotta River sea farm.

In addition to funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program, Maine Fresh Sea Farms won a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration and has applied for a Phase II. The Maine Technology Institute has provided grant writing assistance and a Business Accelerator Grant.

Restaurants interested in the company’s fresh sea greens can email service@brownetrading.com or call 800.944.7848. Maine Fresh Sea Farms also supplies wholesale dried sugar kelp; more information is available by emailing mainefreshseafarms@gmail.com.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

UMaine Awarded $150,000 Grant for Food, Agriculture Research, WABI Reports

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

WABI (Channel 5) reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture have awarded a $150,000 research grant to the University of Maine to help fund the university’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The project aims to develop a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method to better understand food-borne pathogens, according to the report. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced the award in a press release. “Federal funding is crucial to supporting our university system and this announcement is great news for the University of Maine. Their continued exemplary research and the advancements these programs produce are an important contribution to the Maine economy,” the senators said in a joint statement. The full release is online.

Turning Down The Heat

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Peppers

A new pepper variety has been developed with a high capsinoid content to make it less pungent while maintaining all the natural health benefits of the fruit, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine.

The researchers — Robert Jarret from the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in Griffin, Georgia, and Jason Bolton and L. Brian Perkins from the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture — developed the new small-fruited Capsicum annuum L. pepper through traditional breeding methods in an effort to make the health benefits of hot peppers available to more consumers.

In hot peppers, capsaicinoids are the compounds associated both with their signature heat and health benefits, which include being a source of antioxidants. But that pungency can limit their use in foods and pharmaceuticals.

Capsinoids, closely related compounds of capsaicinoids, provide the same benefits without the pungency.

Starting in 2006 with a USDA seed grant, Perkins, a UMaine assistant research professor and director of the Food Chemical Safety Laboratory, and Bolton, then a food science graduate student, screened about 500 subspecies of Capsicum annuum. They forwarded their data to Jarret, who selected those with the highest concentrations of capsinoids.

Jarret then began to classically breed the selected varieties at the USDA facility in Georgia. Perkins screened the results and they repeated the process, selecting the best capsinoid producers from each generation.

The culmination of their work is germplasm 509-45-1. The peppers are very small, with each plant producing up to 1,000 peppers. According to Perkins, there will likely be additional selection to prepare the plants for marketability, both as a food product and for medical experiments.

Currently, small quantities of seed are available from the USDA for research purposes.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Grad Student Developing Pigment Extract From Lobster Shells to Color Fish

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

A University of Maine graduate student is researching ways to use lobster shell waste to create a pigment extract as a green alternative to synthetic versions found in fish food.

Beth Fulton, a Ph.D. student in food science, is working with other researchers on the project that aims to use environmentally friendly solvents and methods to develop a carotenoid pigment extract from lobster shell waste generated by processing facilities. The extract would be used in food for farmed salmonid fish, such as salmon and trout.

“I feel this project could lead to a really simple answer to a lot of problems that we have in Maine at the same time,” Fulton says, noting that decreasing waste and disposal costs by recycling secondary processing resources could have a positive effect on the fishing industry and communities.

Lobster shells are rich in carotenoid pigments — yellow to red pigments found in plants and animals — that can’t be synthesized in salmonid fish but can be used as a natural colorant in food. Farmed salmonid fish get their color from their diet, which contains commercial pigments that may include synthetic carotenoids from petroleum products, dried copepods, whole yeast and algae, or oil extracts from krill. Fulton says 15 percent of salmon feed cost comes from the commercial pigment alone.

“This pigment can potentially replace artificial color in common food products like farmed salmon feeds, and increase the value of whole lobsters,” Fulton says.

Fulton of Lee, N.H., has been working on the project since 2011, primarily with her faculty adviser Denise Skonberg, an associate professor of food science at UMaine. After citing Skonberg’s research in her master’s thesis at the University of New Hampshire, Fulton decided she wanted to attend UMaine to earn her Ph.D. under Skonberg’s guidance. Fulton also has a bachelor’s degree in food science from Cornell University.

When Fulton first came to UMaine, Skonberg suggested she look at what seafood byproducts are getting thrown away in the state and determine usable and efficient food uses for them.

“When we process lobsters — which are 70 percent of this state’s fishing income — we throw away almost 80 percent of the animal, including shell and organs,” Fulton says.

Fulton took Skonberg’s advice and related it to what she had learned while completing her master’s work on green crabs. During that research, she was fascinated by the adult crabs’ ability to change color from orange to green-blue every year.

“That color change is not very well understood, but has been attributed to interactions between proteins and carotenoids in the shell,” Fulton says. “So I started reading a lot about the pigments in lobster shell because they are similar to the ones seen in green crabs.”

In lobster shell, the main pigment is a red-colored carotenoid called astaxanthin, which when bound to a protein called crustacyanin is a blue-green color, she says.

“I started reading a lot about astaxanthin and found there is a very large market for this pigment, and most of the stuff we use in our salmon food is made artificially from petroleum products that are not extracted from natural sources. Consumers are becoming aware of that and are demanding natural colors,” Fulton says.

Fulton is currently examining different methods of removing minerals from lobster shells. She studies a variety of factors, such as how fine the shell needs to be ground, what type of food-grade chemicals should be used, how the shell should be exposed to the chemicals and what type of agitation should be used to maximize the removal of minerals.

She plans to determine the best treatment for pressurized liquid extraction and then look at the effect removing the minerals has on both cooked and high-pressure shucked waste.

Once the extract is developed, it will be assessed for total carotenoid content, carotenoid profile and antioxidant activity. The researchers also propose the extract will then be added to food for rainbow trout, and the effectiveness of the extract in coloring the fish will be studied in comparison to a conventional synthetic pigment.

After Fulton graduates in 2016, she plans to work in the seafood industry.

The project has received a $4,800 Maine Agricultural Center grant, and Fulton has received a $3,000 graduate student award from the Northeast Section of the Institute of Food Technologists for related research. The group recently applied for a grant to fund the project titled “Green production methods for a high-value product from lobster shell waste.” The proposed study would last two years starting in June 2014.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Blueberries Each Day May Keep the Doctor Away

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

blueberry

Eating 2 cups of wild blueberries a day for two months can reduce chronic inflammation, improve metabolism of fat and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, according to research by a University of Maine clinical nutritionist.

Additionally, UMaine professor Dorothy Klimis-Zacas says a diet enriched with the fruit can normalize gene expression of inflammatory markers and those related to lipid and lipoprotein metabolism.

The findings from her research with obese Zucker rats have promising implications for people wanting to reduce inflammation and thus their risk of coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, says Klimis-Zacas.

The obese male Zucker rat is a valid experimental model for human metabolic syndrome (MetS), which is characterized by chronic inflammation, obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

The results are significant in light of the MetS epidemic in the United States, which affects an estimated 37 percent of adults, says Klimis-Zacas. That figure is expected to increase in direct relationship with the rate of obesity, according to National Health Statistics Reports.

Heart disease alone annually kills 600,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Being able to improve health by eating blueberries rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that prevent degenerative disease, rather than relying on pharmaceuticals, is a great benefit, she says.

Klimis-Zacas is the first to report that wild blueberries lowered triglycerides (fatty materials) in the rats’ blood in vivo.

The fruit lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — which clogs people’s blood vessels and increases the risk of a heart attack — while maintaining the level of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, says Klimis-Zacas, who has studied nutritional benefits of wild blueberries for 15 years.

There was an overall anti-inflammatory effect in the obese rats, she says. Circulating levels of inflammatory markers were reduced in their blood, fatty tissues and livers. She found the blueberry-enriched diet improved abnormal overall blood lipid profiles and the genetic expression of enzymes that regulate lipids and cholesterol.

The multiple benefits for obese Zucker rats eating a wild blueberry-enriched diet are detailed in two research articles recently authored by Klimis-Zacas.

The study “Wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) consumption improves inflammatory status in the obese Zucker rat model of the metabolic syndrome,” was published in SciVerse ScienceDirect, a Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Stefano Vendrame, Allison Daugherty and Alekandra S. Kristo, all UMaine graduate students, as well as Patriza Riso of the Universita degli Studi di Milano in Italy, participated in the research.

The study “Wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)-enriched diet improves dyslipidaemia and modulates the expression of genes related to lipid metabolism in obese Zucker rats” was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Vendrame, Daugherty and Kristo are co-authors.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Camire Among the First Certified Food Scientists

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Mary Ellen Camire is among the first food scientists nationwide — and the first at UMaine — to be certified by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). More than 1,400 food scientists nationwide were in the inaugural class of Certified Food Scientists, a certification program created by IFT that recognizes the applied scientific knowledge and skills of food scientists. The certification examination covers product development, quality assurance and control, food chemistry and analysis, regulatory, food microbiology, food safety, food engineering, sensory evaluation and consumer testing. Camire and the other newly certified food scientists will be recognized this week in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists. IFT has nearly 18,000 members worldwide working in academic, government agencies and the food industry. Camire will become president-elect of that organization Sept. 1.

Wu Receives Top Pan-American Award

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Vivian Chi-Hua Wu, associate professor of microbiology and food safety at the University of Maine, has won a 2012 Bimbo Pan-American Nutrition, Food Science and Technology Award.

The award recognizes the best research projects in the fields of nutrition, food science and technology throughout the Americas.

Wu will receive $5,000 for her technology project, “A piezoelectric immunosensor for specific capture and enrichment of viable pathogens by quartz crystal microbalance sensor, followed by detection with antibody-functionalized gold nanoparticles.”

A scientific jury of researchers and experts chose Wu’s project the best of 107 entries.

Health Article Cites UMaine Blueberry Research

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The Triton newspaper in Florida cited University of Maine blueberry research in an article about the many health benefits of wild blueberries. The article referred to UMaine research establishing that blueberries have antimicrobial properties that can counter foodborne pathogens like salmonella or E-coli.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Klimis-Zacas Named Fulbright Specialist for Blueberry Research

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, UMaine professor of food science and human nutrition, has been awarded a Senior Fulbright Specialist grant in agriculture, which will enable her to continue her research on the health benefits of wild blueberries at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Milan in Italy. In 2007 she received a Senior Fulbright Specialist grant to research and teach at the University of Milan, where she has been conducting human trials on the effects of wild blueberries on inflammation and endothelial function as related to cardiovascular disease.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Huffington Post Cites UMaine Cranberry Research

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Cranberry research by University of Maine food science and human nutrition professor Vivian Wu and colleagues were cited in a blog in the Huffington Post about the multiple health benefits of antioxidant-rich cranberry juice. In addition to improving cardiovascular health, cranberries also fight infection. Wu studies ways cranberries can be used to slow or eliminate growth of listeria, salmonella, staph infection and E. coli in ground beef.

 Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756