Food exports of the future boost brainpower, flavour and texture

AgResearch scientists are leading new research which they say could revolutionise New Zealand foods – with new ways of boosting flavour and texture, and products designed to make our brains perform better.

Supported by industry and research partners, AgResearch programmes have recently been awarded more than $21 million by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.

“The future for New Zealand food exports to the world is premium quality and adding as much value as possible to our products,” says AgResearch Science Group Leader Dr Jolon Dyer.

“This cutting edge research will look at how we can help deliver premium foods by taking the eating experience, and the health benefits of the food, to new levels.”

The first of two AgResearch-led programmes, supported by commercial partner Fonterra, and with research partners, the Riddet Institute, the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, Flinders University (Australia), University College Cork (Ireland), and Illinois University (USA), is called Smarter Lives: New opportunities for dairy products across the lifespan, and focuses on how foods can influence brain performance via the `gut-brain axis’.

“Our gut influences just about everything we do and its connection to the brain is essential to leading healthier lives. People are looking for products that help brain development in children and provide better brain performance through adulthood,” says programme leader Dr Nicole Roy.

“One way is through eating foods that boost brain performance. There is mounting evidence to suggest that frequent consumption of dairy products or probiotics may do just that, but we don’t yet know how. The key is in the two-way communication between the gut and the brain.”

“We’ll be using cutting-edge techniques to understand how dairy ingredients and probiotics can work together to send signals from the gut to optimise brain development and performance. We’ll also be developing prototype foods that combine ingredients in a way that promotes those benefits.”

The second programme, Accelerated evolution: a step-change in food fermentation led by AgResearch, with research partners the Riddet Institute, Callaghan Innovation, Teagasc (Ireland), University of Bologna and Kyoto University, looks at how fermentation – one of the oldest and most economical methods of producing and preserving food – can make products stand out from the crowd, with fewer additives.

Common fermented foods include cheese, yoghurt and sauerkraut.

“We’ll be looking at the process of fermentation, and how we accelerate the process using different scientific methods to create new and desirable flavours and textures for products such as dairy, meat and seafood,” says programme leader Dr Li Day.

“We’ll also determine how these new fermented foods can be identified uniquely with New Zealand, and experienced and enjoyed by consumers internationally.”

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