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Food & Function

Cite this: Food Funct., 2015, 6, 1035

Microencapsulation of bioactives for food applications†

Maria Inês Dias,a,b Isabel C. F. R. Ferreira*a and Maria Filomena Barreiro*b

Health issues are an emerging concern to the world population, and therefore the food industry is search- ing for novel food products containing health-promoting bioactive compounds, with little or no synthetic ingredients. However, there are some challenges in the development of functional foods, particularly in which the direct use of some bioactives is involved. They can show problems of instability, react with other food matrix ingredients or present strong odour and/or flavours. In this context, microencapsulation emerges as a potential approach to overcome these problems and, additionally, to provide controlled or targeted delivery or release. This work intends to contribute to the field of functional food development by performing a comprehensive review on the microencapsulation methods and materials, the bioactives used (extracts and isolated compounds) and the final application development. Although several studies dealing with microencapsulation of bioactives exist, they are mainly focused on the process development and the majority lack proof of concept for final applications. These factors, together with the lack of regu- lation, in Europe and in the United States, delay the development of new functional foods and, conse- quently, their market entry. In conclusion, the potential of microencapsulation to protect bioactive compounds ensuring their bioavailability is shown, but further studies are required, considering both its applicability and incentives by regulatory agencies.


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Received 19th December 2014, Accepted 7th February 2015

DOI: 10.1039/c4fo01175a

1. Introduction

1.1. The increasing interest in functional foods

Nowadays, food not only serves to satisfy the primal urge of hunger, but also is a means to promote consumer’s health. In this context, the food industry has focused on avoiding the potential harmfulness of synthetic food additives and on developing novel food products containing health-promoting ingredients. Therefore, bioactive natural products are con- sidered as viable and safer substitutes to satisfy the world market demand for new products.1

“Functional foods” arise as the frontier between nutrition and health, providing a long-term beneficial physiological/ health effect beyond their nutritional properties.1 The concept of functional food appeared 40 years ago, however the growing interest in this type of product, either from industry (through patents) or academia (through scientific research articles and

aMountain Research Centre (CIMO), ESA, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Campus Santa Apolónia Ap. 1172, 5301-855 Bragança, Portugal. E-mail:; Fax: +351-273-325405; Tel: +351-273-303219

bLaboratory of Separation and Reaction Engineering (LSRE), Associate Laboratory LSRE/LCM, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Campus Santa Apolónia Ap. 1134, 5301-857 Bragança, Portugal. E-mail:; Fax: +351-273-325405;

Tel: +351-273-303089

†Electronic supplementary information (ESI) available. See DOI: 10.1039/ c4fo01175a

reviews), was only observed from the second half of the 1990s, indicating an increasing tendency (Fig. 1). The exponential growth of patents and scientific research articles/reviews observed since 2005 was accompanied by the regulation (EC) no. 1924/2006 publication by the European Parliament on nutrition and health claims in foods, which was completed and finalized in 2011 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regarding beneficial health claims in certain food ingre- dients.2,3 In the United States (US) the regulation of functional foods is facilitated, as the food industry itself provides the product definition that will be placed on the market; food companies are only obliged to follow labelling and safety rules implemented by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).4

Nowadays, consumers’ awareness of health issues is growing together with the increasing incidence of chronic age- related diseases, such as neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer, usually correlated with the lifestyle and dietary habits of our societies.5 Moreover, as the life expectancy is rising, with the consequent increase of health care costs, pharmaceutical and food industries have started to consider functional foods as a new market with huge growth potential. Nowadays, Japan, the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are the leading markets for functional foods, repre- senting in total 90% of the world market supply for this type of product.6 In 2006, US and EU markets were valued at 33 billion US$ and at 15 billion US$, respectively, with a

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2015

Food Funct., 2015, 6, 1035–1052 | 1035

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