Dairy businesses and researchers in Ireland have begun a project to "mine" milk for active functional ingredients.
The Food for Health Ireland (FHI) initiative is a partnership between four of Ireland's major dairy processing companies — Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia and Kerry — and four public research organisations — University College Cork, University College Dublin, Teagasc's Moorepark Food Research Centre and University of Limerick.
Together they will aim to determine how milk ingredients can be extracted and used to deliver health benefits for consumers. The aim is to "provide a pipeline for the development of new functional food ingredients and products."
Headquartered at University College Cork, researchers will tap into the health potential of bioactive ingredients derived from milk proteins, carbohydrates and fats in a project dubbed 'Intelligent Milk Mining,' which will break milk down milk into its molecular components.
These will be tested for their impact on early infant development and their ability to reduce the risk of infection, heart disease and obesity. Their efficacy will also be scientifically and clinically validated in model systems and human intervention studies to ensure they meet the requirements of EU Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation.
FHI chief executive Jens Bleiel told the Irish Times newspaper that once interesting, high activity components had been identified in the screening phase, they would be analysed and tested for their specific health properties. They may have an effect on the blood-glucose levels of diabetic patients, may reduce blood pressure, create satiety in consumers wanting to lose weight or better protect babies and children against diarrhoea, he explained.
"All these developments will respond to one of the most pressing consumer requests to the food industry — that is healthy, tasty, affordable products from natural sources," said Bleiel.
He added: "Consumer behaviour and insights are being generated by the dairy companies to give guidance to the research programme, so that the developed ingredients will satisfy real consumer needs."