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March 25, 2010
by Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D.
The functional beverage category is generating new and exciting concepts, from a variety of shot type single-dosage products that can address multiple health concerns to the standard 16-oz. drink focusing on areas ranging from weight management to stress reduction to cognitive function. Multiple ingredients can be incorporated into a beverage product; but, functional beverage formulation goes beyond just adding a few vitamins here, a cupful of antioxidants there and tossing in some botanicals. Understanding proper ingredient selection, specific to finished product composition, along with processing conditions employed to manufacture a marketable product, and how to blend them into a nutrient premix are key points manufacturers must take into consideration at the very beginning of the product development process.
Consumers are more aware than ever about the role certain nutrients can play in their overall health, or in the management of specific health conditions. Two ingredients that are currently popular in the consumer mindset are omega-3s and vitamin D. Each of these ingredients poses certain formulation challenges product formulators must address in order to successfully incorporate them into a beverage.
There are three market forms of omega-3 available: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), primarily from flax or algae; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), primarily marine-sourced; and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also primarily from fish. Depending upon shearing effect, one has to select the appropriate type of encapsulated omega-3. The duration of the blending process and types of blenders used will also have a bearing on the finished product stability and other quality control attributes (e.g., fishy odor, rancidity, etc.). Blending is not an exact science. Trial and error is still the best practice, especially for highly sensitive nutrients such as omega-3s, which are very sensitive to shearing and other factors.
Vitamin D is available in two market forms, vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) from plant and vegetable origins and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) from animal origins. Both of these are microencapsulated and stabilized with appropriate antioxidant systems. Vitamin D2 and D3 are more stable and easier to handle than omega-3s; however, it is important to consider factors affecting their physical and chemical stability. Factors such as moisture, heat, exposure to air or light, alkaline or acidic environment would have adverse effects on the nutrient as well as physical stability.
Criticism of nutritional products often arises from tests showing they do not contain the quantities of nutritional ingredients stated on the label. These problems vary from product to product. Sometimes potency is too low or too high, and sometimes the product is devoid of the nutrients listed on the label. There may be many reasons for these deficiencies; but, inadequate blending is often the source, due to sensitivities associated with defective microencapsulated ingredients, or damage of coated material during the handling of the ingredient itself.
Blending and processing techniques can make the difference between producing a reliable, high-quality, homogenous, shelf-stable nutrient premix and an inferior one that may cause poor consumer confidencemeaning no repeat purchase, potential regulatory issues or recall situations.
Particle size blending equipment and the type of ingredients used are primary blending and processing considerations. The challenge in blending ingredients with different particle sizes is bulk density and variable particle sizes can lead to segregation. Therefore, minor nutrients should be diluted with another carrier to get the two different materials to blend well in order to make a homogeneous product. Within the functional/fortified food and beverage industries, combination products have become the norm. The average premix formulation contains at least 10 to 14 active nutrients and three to six functional ingredients, or carriers (excipients). Some formulations contain more than 30 active nutrients and carriers.
There are basic steps to follow when dry blending a multiple-ingredient formula to make a homogeneous premix:
Test all active ingredients, identify and potency limits. If raw materials are not tested prior to use, it may be difficult to determine whether a problem with the final product is related to blending or to the ingredients.
If possible, render all ingredients free-flowing. This can be done with milling, particle coating, granulation, making pre-blends, tituration, spray drying and other techniques.
Purchase ingredients that have consistent particle size distribution or that have a narrow range of variation.
Screen lumpy or cohesive ingredients as they are added to the blender to reduce agglomeration during mixing.
Always add a portion of the largest quantity ingredient to the blender first. It will coat the blender and prevent lesser ingredients from sticking to the walls.
Before adding small-quantity active nutrients to the blend, be sure each one is geometrically diluted to assist with adequate blending. That helps prevent loss from ingredients adhering to the blender wall or because the material had not been dispersed enough for uniform blending. Never add ingredients that account for less than one percent of the total blend into an empty blender.
When using a V-type blender, divide the ingredients into equal parts, and then add one portion to one side and the other portion to the other side. This improves distribution and blending time, and the level of fill in the vessels plays a critical role in determining the adequacy of blending. These parameters should be established during the product development stages.
Finally, take adequate samples from the top, bottom and center of the blender. List at least three of the lower potency ingredients to determine the adequacy of the blend. Take samples again after discharge to identify any segregation that may have occurred during material transfer.
Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., FACN, CNS, is the senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Fortitech .
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