Functional food, superfood, future food – what does it all mean?

Mortification is a thing of the past. Today’s ‘healthy foodies’ want to optimise food for the best performance – and enjoy it at the same time. Of course, sugar reduction is an essential part of conscious consumers’ quest for guilt-free indulgence. But there is so much more. In this article, we take a closer look at some trends that you, as a professional in the food industry, should keep a tab on.

11 November 2020 •

The food we eat has been devel­oped, refined and mod­i­fied for at least 10,000 years. Today, devel­op­ment is going faster than ever. The food should make us health­i­er, more beau­ti­ful and hap­pi­er. More and more peo­ple are ‘healthy believ­ers’, with a pro­nounced inter­est in the envi­ron­ment, sus­tain­able lifestyle and health. They move about freely between con­cepts such as func­tion­al food, super­food and future food. Do you move about just as freely? If not, here’s an arti­cle just for you!

Superfood

Page from The Scientific Monthly pub­lished in January 1918.

The term super­food is used for foods that con­tain a lot of nutri­ents – main­ly ingre­di­ents that are min­i­mal­ly processed (for exam­ple, only dried and ground into pow­der). There are no exact pro­vi­sions that food must meet to be called super­food, and the term is some­times crit­i­cised for being most­ly a buzz­word in mar­ket­ing. Nevertheless, such words can serve as a sig­nal, as they cat­e­gorise and point out foods with com­mon prop­er­ties that are of inter­est to consumers.

The world’s first super­food is the banana, which in 1918 was described as ‘a food of excep­tion­al val­ue’ in The Scientific Monthly. This was used by Chiquita’s pre­de­ces­sor – United Fruit Company – in a mas­sive mar­ket­ing cam­paign, which fur­ther strength­ened the banana’s sta­tus as a super­food dur­ing the ear­ly 20th century.

Although super­food start­ed as a flash of genius in a mar­ket­ing depart­ment, it’s today embraced by health-con­scious con­sumers who asso­ciate it with great benefits.

bannanas in a wooden boix

The advantage of superfood

When the term became pop­u­lar in Europe in the ear­ly 2000s, it was often exot­ic foods, such as goji, ash­wa­gand­ha, maca, chia and quinoa, that were high­light­ed and that health-con­scious con­sumers took to heart with great enthu­si­asm and were hap­py to pay extra for.

Then nutri­ent-dense foods from our back­yard were mar­ket­ed as super­foods – such as blue­ber­ries, net­tles, kale and cel­ery. Foods that pre­vi­ous­ly lived a seclud­ed exis­tence sud­den­ly become heroes on the din­ing table or in our smooth­ie. Even weeds in our gar­den, such as net­tle and goutweed, were high­light­ed as extra wholesome.

Examples of superfoods

  • Acai
  • Blueberries
  • Goji
  • Algae
  • Spirulina
  • Kelp
  • Chlorella
  • Kale
  • Roman sal­ad
  • Spinach
  • Nettle
  • Avocado
  • Chia Seed
  • Hemp seed
  • Flax Seed
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Flaxseed oil

Functional food

Functional food, is food that has health ben­e­fits beyond pro­vid­ing nutri­tion. The con­cept of func­tion­al food comes from a research project in Japan, and had its break­through dur­ing an inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in Singapore in 1995.

In Japanese cul­ture, it is thought that food has three purposes:

Primary pur­pose
Nourishe the body and keep life process­es going.
Secondary pur­pose
Provide taste, tex­ture and smell.
Tertiary pur­pose
Change phys­i­o­log­i­cal prop­er­ties in a pos­i­tive direction.

It is food with the ter­tiary pur­pose that is called func­tion­al food. Functional food must, in addi­tion to nour­ish­ing us, change the body’s prop­er­ties in a pos­i­tive way.

mix av grönsaker och frukter

Example of functional food

Legumes

  • Chickpeas
  • Lenses
  • Navy beans
  • Black beans

Seeds

  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Herbs and spices

  • Cayenne pep­per
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon

Vegetables

  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini

Seafood

  • Anchovies
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Cod

Fermented foods

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh

Fruits and berries

  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Goji
  • Sea buck­thorn
  • Kiwi
  • Lingon
  • Peaches
  • Pear
  • Cranberries
  • Apples

Whole grains

  • Buckwheat
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Oats
  • Barley

Drinks

  • Chaga
  • Green Tea
  • Cocoa

Nuts

  • Cashews
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pistachio almonds

Bioactive substances in functional food

Studies on the effect of diet among dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions show that those who eat fruit, veg­eta­bles, whole grains and fish have bet­ter health and often a longer life. What sub­stances in the food cause this? Finding answers is a quest that uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies are col­lab­o­rat­ing on in var­i­ous research projects.

Some types of sub­stances that researchers are inter­est­ed in are:

  • Omega‑3 and omega‑6 fat­ty acids – which, among oth­er things, affect the reg­u­la­tion of blood pres­sure, how the kid­neys work and our immune system.
  • Beta-glu­cans – which can low­er blood cho­les­terol levels.
  • Flavonoids and antiox­i­dants – which pro­tect our cells against oxida­tive stress.
  • Probiotics – which sup­ply ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria to the colon.
  • Prebiotics – which nour­ish the ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria in the colon.

Biotechnology and improved food

Research on bioac­tive sub­stances inspires pro­duc­ers to adopt biotech­nol­o­gy to change, add or sub­tract, and increase or decrease sub­stances in foods that opti­mize them. It can be as sim­ple as adding iodine to salt, omega‑3 to eggs or vit­a­min D to milk. Or replace sug­ar with sweet­ened fibres.

Future food

Researchers esti­mate that we need to pro­duce 25–70 per­cent more food in 2050 than today. Then the earth’s pop­u­la­tion is expect­ed to con­sist of 9 bil­lion peo­ple. It can be dif­fi­cult to meet the demand for food with­out devel­op­ing new types of food. This is where the con­cept of future food comes in.

Plant-based meat

Meat has been a lux­u­ry in most cul­tures, dur­ing most times. Few peo­ple in his­to­ry have had the same access to meat as the rich part of the world has today. But meat is an inef­fi­cient way of feed­ing a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, as rais­ing live­stock requires a lot of agri­cul­tur­al land and water. Not every­one agrees with this, but we still see an increased inter­est in ‘plant-based meat’. Plant-based meat con­sists of veg­e­tar­i­an ingre­di­ents that are processed togeth­er to resem­ble meat as much as possible.

Hamburger with “meat” made from soy pro­tein. Photo: Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Cultivated meat

Plant-based meat is already on the mar­ket. Soon it may be accom­pa­nied by cul­ti­vat­ed meat. Unlike plant-based ‘meat’, it is real meat. But it does not come from live­stock, but is grown from mus­cle cells.

The first burg­er with cul­ti­vat­ed meat was eat­en in 2013. It cost $ 325,000. Since then, the price has fall­en rapid­ly and is start­ing to approach the mag­ic lim­it of $ 1 per liter where cul­ti­vat­ed meat is expect­ed to become com­mer­cial­ly viable.

Meat grown in the laboratory.
Meat grown in the laboratory.

Farmed fish

We have become accus­tomed to farmed fish. Above all, we eat a lot of salmon that are raised in fish ponds in Norway. But today you should not be sur­prised if you vis­it an ordi­nary farm and dis­cov­er that the barn no longer has cows but pools for fish farm­ing. Fish farm­ing is an indus­try that is still in its infancy.

Soon we will also see plant-based shell­fish alter­na­tives. You can already buy ‘shrimp’ made from soy pro­tein and algae.

Indoor fish farming.
Indoor fish farming.

3D food

CandyFab was the first to use sug­ar in a 3D print­er and thus print some­thing edi­ble. But the real break­through for 3D print­ing of food came in 2014 with the project Edible Growth, that showed how tech­nol­o­gy can be used to improve food.

When the project start­ed in 2014, it was thought that it would take at least 10 years before the tech­nol­o­gy became com­mon, but already two years lat­er, in 2016, a pop-up restau­rant called FoodInk that only served 3D food was opened.

And today, there are com­pa­nies, such as byFlow, that man­u­fac­ture 3D print­ers for food aimed at ordi­nary households.

3D print­er in action at Food Ink. Photo: 3DFP Ventures Ltd.

Insects

The need of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion for pro­tein requires that we learn to think in new direc­tions, and it has hard­ly escaped any­one that insects are our next source of pro­tein. In fact, about 2 bil­lion peo­ple in the trop­i­cal parts of Asia, Africa and South America already eat insects today, accord­ing to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

We who are not as open-mind­ed, and are dis­gust­ed by mere­ly the thought of eat­ing liv­ing, slimy, wind­ing worms, can take com­fort in that we do not have to put our teeth in a crispy roast­ed crick­et, but can instead use pro­tein pow­der made from insects.

Cricket is the most com­mon insect in insect farms. They are con­sid­ered as one of the most sus­tain­able sources of pro­tein. And you can raise them at home if you want.

Roasted grasshoppers (chapulines) with guacamole are a popular snack in the Mexican region of Oaxaca.
Roasted grasshop­pers (cha­pu­lines) with gua­camole are a pop­u­lar snack in the Mexican region of Oaxaca.

Conclusion

We humans have always been look­ing for new ways to improve the food we eat. Once upon a time we learned to han­dle the fire and fry food. Now we try to make the food health­i­er with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the taste. It requires new solu­tions. We at Bayn pull our straw to the pile by devel­op­ing sweet­ened fibres, with the goal of help­ing you to cre­ate good food with less sugar.

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