Science and Tech

From the UCM for the food chain: They discover an additive with high industrial value

From the UCM for the food chain: They discover an additive with high industrial value

Dr. Aparna Banerjee’s project, which has Fondecyt funding, elucidated a compound with valuable characteristics for the healthy food industry.

Even in the worst moments of the pandemic, when large sectors of the population faced difficulties in accessing healthy food and practicing physical activity, the paradigm of the “ideal diet” did not stop evolving towards a healthier and more sustainable model. Because of the popular junk food, not even nostalgia was left.

For this reason, food industries around the world have intensified efforts to find additives of natural origin with more health benefits or greater bioactivity.

“Chile still imports natural additives from other countries, such as France and the United States, or uses additives of chemical origin. This led us to look for a biological alternative that is not toxic to health or that does not have any long-term effect,” said the academic from the Catholic University of Maule, Dr. Aparna Banerjee, who heads the project entitled “Bacterial exopolysaccharides as antioxidant and emulsifying agent”.

The initiative, financed by “Fondecyt Iniciación”, investigated the characteristics of the so-called exopolysaccharides (EPS) produced by thermophilic bacteria from hot springs in the Maule region, elucidating new compounds for food applications, with high industrial value.

“The functional properties of EPS were evaluated for food industry applications, specifically as an antioxidant and for its emulsification, water retention (WHC), oil retention (OHC), and flocculation capabilities. The results suggest that EPS can be a useful additive for the food processing industry”, says an article recently published in a scientific journal.

“Chile is one of the first consumers of functional food in Latin America and people have knowledge about healthy food. If you look at the food label, you will see that additives such as gum arabic, xanthan gum, or those of plant, algae or microbacterial origin are used, normally imported from another country, so the cost of production is also affected, “said the Banerjee Dr.

The scientist explained that Chile, due to its geographical location, is a kind of natural laboratory “to study the dynamics of the microbial community” in extreme environments of temperature, salinity, pH and drought, among other factors that affect its survival.

“I have been working with hot springs for the last eight years. During my doctorate I worked with hot springs in India and its biodiversity. In Chile, there is less human impact on hot springs and it has been very little explored for bioactive compounds. This region has about ten hot springs whose bacterial diversity has not been reported”, stated the UCM researcher.

The project, which is the first report of any characterized bacterial EPS from Chilean hot springs, will be completed next October.

“In the Maule region we have many hot springs with high temperatures, so the microorganisms that live there have a thermostability property. The food industry also needs high temperatures during food processing and that is why perhaps in a future project we have to think about how to lower the cost of production to reach what the industry needs”, pointed out the scientist who is also a member of the Center for Studies in Advanced Research of the Maule of the campus (CIEAM).

The initiative of the academic has the collaboration of Dr. Gustavo Cabrera of the Technological Development Unit (UDT) of the University of Concepción, in addition to other national and international contributions, and its financing exceeds eighty million pesos.

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