"Nanofoods" Offer Big Flavor, Low Fat, Stealth Vitamins

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
February 23, 2009

Imagine potato chips with all the flavor but far less sodium. Or fish oil-enriched bread that doesn't taste the least bit fishy.

These are just two ways nanotechnology is poised to enter grocery stores, a group of food scientists said at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The potato chips would use "nanosalt"—plain-old salt crystals, only smaller, said Qasim Chaudhry, a toxicologist at Britain's Central Science Laboratory in York, England.

Together the microscopic grains have more surface area, milligram for milligram, than larger, conventional salt crystals. That means more contact with your tongue, resulting in a disproportionately salty sensation.

The same principle, Chaudhry said, applies to a type of mayonnaise currently under development in Europe.

Normal mayonnaise's tiny oil droplets add rich texture and taste. Nano-mayo instead substitutes the oil with water droplets thinly coated with oil. The result: lower fat but full flavor.

(Related: "Nanotech: The Tiny Science Is Big, and Getting Bigger")

Breaded Fish

Nanotech can also be used to enrich a wide range of foods with tiny, tasteless capsules of vitamins, minerals, or health supplements.

Bread, for example, could be enhanced with heart-friendly fish oil.

Normally, that would make the bread taste, well, fishy. But with nano-supplements, "you can encapsulate it and give all the health benefits without the flavor," Chaudhry said.

In China, he added, nano forms of selenium have been used to enrich green tea to combat deficiencies in some parts of the country.

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