Present Situation And Potential Of Seaweeds For Novel Functional Food Product Developments

Seaweeds have long been recognized as potential sources for the phyco-colloid industry dealt with agar, carrageenan, furcellaran, and algin to use as food additives in the modes of stabilizers, texture enhancers, viscosity modulators, gelling agents, etc. Seaweeds have gained the popularity in the international trade specifically for these phycocolloids, dried seaweeds, and products of laminarin and fucoidans. With the increased understanding of the health beneficial properties of these seaweed compounds, considerable efforts have been exerted in discovering more direct therapeutic-related food applications, but, despite high expectations, no commercially successful product ranges have yet been developed utilizing these compounds targeting optimum health and nutrition of human. Very few seaweed-based functional food products can be seen covering a narrow market niches such as powder forms of alginates and carragee-nans, phytocomplexes fortified with fucoidans, aligns, minerals and vitamins from seaweed sources, p-carotene as vitamin supplements, seaweed protein powders, fiber complexes fortified with phytochemical extractions from seaweeds, etc. However, their success as a functional food product in the market is not up to the expectation. Fortification of food products having higher consumer acceptance with seaweed bioactives would provide an opportune approach to popularize health benefits of seaweeds among consumers and very few such efforts are reported recently (Kadam and Prabhasankar, 2010; Lopez-Lopez et al., 2009). It is an agreeable fact that functional foods present major challenges for the food industry as they appear to be a new and unfamiliar territory for product developers in marketing and developing business strategies. This is mainly because translating scientific advances and nutritional innovations into consumer products is a costly and complex process. Sound science must underlie the development, marketing, and regulation of these new functional foods to gain success. Further, one needs to understand that the functional food trends are more heterogeneous than homogeneous, evolving and growing at different rates both within and across countries, owing to sociodemographic and sociocultural differences, and functional food products needs to be developed to match with the interests of the target populations (Wim, 2005).

Successful functional product innovations dealt with other food sources have been mainly launched targeting the markets for nonalcoholic beverages fortified with the vitamins or other functional ingredients, breakfast cereals, cholesterol-lowering spreads, confectionery, biscuits, cereal, cereal bars, soft drinks, probiotic and prebiotic dairy products, isotonic drinks, bakery, and hypoallergenic baby foods. Further, ever-concerning chronic disease-related conditions such as cancer, high cholesterol, coronary heart diseases, atherosclerosis, stroke, hypertension, diabetes (type II), gastrointestinal disorders, osteoporosis, intestinal complications, and immune disorders including allergy have been used as prime focuses when developing these functional food products. When analyzing the supply structure of these functional foods, the main types of successful actors in the commercial functional food segment are multinational food companies with a broad product range and pharmaceutical or dietary products producing companies. Therefore, the combination of consumer acceptance, advances in science and technology, and scientifically backed evidence linking consumption of biochemical compounds in seaweed to disease and disease prevention can be taken as unprecedented opportunity for these food marketers to develop seaweed-based functional products to address nutritional and health-promoting demands of consumers. Hence, they can take the challenge of developing novel food products using seaweeds with their wider experience in handling other functional food categories. Today's science and technology can be used to provide many additional functional foods, and future scientific and technological advances promise an even greater range of health benefits for consumers through seaweed-based functional food innovations. Other than these main factors, the extent of cultivation needs to be expanded to which raw seaweed demands can be met at competitive prices, and further efforts are needed to explore new sources of algae so far neglected. Further, in obtaining the success in the market, strategic planning is required to enhance the knowledge and awareness of the consumers about health effects of seaweeds-related functional ingredients. Moreover, the long-term success of a functional food for health and well-being depends on perspective and the alignment of a number of interests and different stakeholders such as health sector, food industry, technologists, scientists, regulators, and even environmentalists. Therefore, a dialog needs to be initiated among researchers, industry, regulators, and other important stakeholders to initiate strategies to promote this invaluable natural resource of food to develop successful functional food products to the market.

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