Salmon milk: Yum. Herring bread: Delish. Anchovy hamburger: Thank you, sir, may I have another? There?s a reason why fish oil, despite its abundance of healthful omega-3 fatty acids, hasn?t been added to foods: taste and smell. Even the most nutrition-conscious consumer is likely to gag at the concept of fish-fortified orange juice. But in the last year, two Canadian companies have begun marketing odorless, tasteless fish oil powder and gel that can be added to everything from yogurt to crackers. The result is foods fortified with 100 mg to 300 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per serving. The National Institutes of Health and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids recommend 2,000 mg of omega-3s for adults consuming a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.
Traditionally, manufacturers who want to fortify their products with omega-3s have relied on virtually tasteless, easy-to-bake flaxseeds or oil, or canola oil. But these plant-based products contain alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 that doesn?t carry the health claims associated with EPA and DHA. In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim that foods containing EPA and DHA can reduce risk of coronary heart disease.
So far, only a few foods are fortified with fish oil: hamburgers, yogurt, milk and bread. But executives at Vegelip, the Montreal-based company that produces an odorless fish-oil gel, say in 2006 consumers will see ice cream, hard and soft cheeses, bÃ©chamel and alfredo sauces, veggie burgers, sausages and deli meats all spiked with fish oil.
Currently, Vegelip gel is in milk produced by Safeway and Nutrinor, and in hamburgers made by Ontario-based Cardinal Meat Specialties and H & H Foods of Mercedes, Texas. The gel doesn?t melt at high temperatures, so it can be cooked or pasteurized. It?s particularly effective in hamburgers, says Jeff Griffin, director of marketing for Cardinal. The gel replaces animal fat, so a hamburger can be lean yet juicy. ?Vegelip can reduce the overall animal-fat content by almost half,? Griffin says. In dairy products, a creamier version of the gel is designed to replace high-cholesterol butterfat.
?There?s also less volume loss during cookingâ18 percent [meat shrinkage] versus 32 percent in a regular burger,? says Emilio Taddio, vice president of sales and marketing for Vegelip.
Cardinal introduced its burgers bearing the label ?an excellent source of omega-3? last spring, and sales have been so strong throughout Canada that the company is planning to develop omega-3-infused chicken and veggie burgers, Griffin says.
Vegelip also produces omega-3 gel fortified with vitamins. But the company?s products do have a downside. ?In some [dairy] items, you might be able to detect a fish taste,? Taddio says. And because the gel doesn?t melt, it can?t be used in baked goods.
Another fish oil product, MEG-3 by Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based Ocean Nutrition Canada, can be added to baked goods. An Ocean Nutrition team of 50 research scientists discovered a way to put fish oil into capsules so tiny they?re the size of a grain of flour. Each capsule contains 60 percent oil. ?In essence, what we?ve done is turn oil into powder,? says Ian Lucas, Ocean Nutrition?s vice president of new product development.
Lucas says fish oil?s distinctive smell and taste is created when DHA and EPA oxidize. But if the oil is microencapsulated, it?s never exposed to air and oxidization never occurs. Consequently, MEG-3 is odorless and tasteless.
MEG-3 is currently in Danone Canada?s Cardivia yogurt, Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt, Cali-Wraps tortillas, Farmers Dairy skim milk and Wegmans? private-label bread. It was also in Arnold Smart & Healthy bread, but the company discontinued the product in late October in favor of a bread infused with even more omega-3s. The new version of the fish oil-fortified bread is scheduled to be introduced early next year, says Arnold spokeswoman Claire Bandel.
Vicky Uhland is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 12/p. 20, 23