Are Mackerel-Delight Ice Cream, Alagae Pudding, and Fish-Oil-and-Vinegar the Foods of the Future?

AMHERST, Mass. - Researchers in the food science department at the University of Massachusetts have received federal funding to lead a study that will determine the feasibility, nutritional impact, and design of a variety of functional foods containing significant levels of an essential fatty acid derived from fish oil. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing almost a $1 million to UMass over four years for this project, and nearly as much over the same period divided among the University of Connecticut, Pennsylvania State University, and Harvard University Medical School.

Functional foods are food products containing nutritional elements not inherent in the natural ingredients. Common examples would be calcium-enriched orange juice and breakfast cereal containing minerals not found in grains. This study will find ways to put omega-3 fatty acids into products typical of the American diet in ways that will be healthful, economically feasible, and tasty.

Omega-3 lipids, found in fish, algae, canola and flaxseed oil, are proven to benefit brain and eye development in children. They also are thought to be important in the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Crohn''s disease, and ulcerative colitis in adults.

"There is strong evidence that most people don''t consume enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. These oils are essential for good health, especially for infants, children, pregnant and lactating women, and people with coronary heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune disorders," said Eric A. Decker, principal investigator for the study, and professor of food science at UMass. "Our ancestors ate equal amounts of the fatty acids found in fish and in vegetable oils. Over the years, our diets have changed, and now we eat 40 times more fatty acids from vegetable oils than from fish oils."

Beginning with oils from Atlantic menhaden (an abundant fish also called mossbunker or pogy), and micro-algae produced through fermentation, the food scientists are developing technologies to emulsify the oils to keep them from producing fishy odors through oxidation. Stable emulsions can be incorporated into a variety of food products that don''t require high-heat processing - including such items as deli meats, dairy products, and beverages - and where they will have minimal impact on taste or texture.