The technology can be used to encapsulate bioactive and functional compounds (e.g. vitamins, antioxidants) in small structures (micro and nano-hydrogels) which can be then added to foods. These structures are developed using milk proteins, known due to their high nutrient content, the ability to regulate blood circulation and anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities. Nutricap offers to the food industry the possibility to develop products fortified with anti-oxidants, vitamins and phytosterols. "The hydrogels can be added to juices, yoghurts and cereals, for example. The aim is give to the nowadays increasingly demanding consumers more healthy and nutritious products", highlights the researcher Miguel Cerqueira, who collaborated with Ana Bourbon, Ana Pinheiro, António Vicente, Hélder Silva and Philippe Ramos.
The incorporation of free bioactive compounds has been used in food products in order to enhance nutrition and to overcome nutritional deficiencies. However, their interaction with the food matrix and the loss of bioactivity during the passage through the gastrointestinal tract presents many challenges. "Nutricap allows to incorporate soluble and insoluble bioactive compounds, acting as a vehicle for the controlled and localized release of compounds, and is distinguished by only using natural and food grade materials, such as milk proteins" mentioned Miguel Cerqueira. The potential use of this innovation in the market has been exploited by Improveat, a spin-off of UMinho headquartered in Spinpark in Caldas das Taipas, Guimaraes.
"We are pleased to receive this award by a mobilizing agent for innovation in the agri-food sector, such as the Food & Nutrition Awards. It is a proof of the excellent work that has been developed in last years at CEB and an important encouragement to continue the research in this area" says Miguel Cerqueira.
The award was received at the 6th edition of the Food & Nutrition Awards in Lisbon. The event aims to highlight the last innovations of the agri-food sector in terms of competitiveness, research and entrepreneurship, highlighting the importance of the several phases of the industry. In the four categories in competition - Research and Development, Innovation Service, Mobilization Initiative and Product Innovation - were selected 23 finalists, chosen by recognized personalities at the academic, scientific and business level.
Miguel Cerqueira, of 33 years old, is graduated in Biological Engineering by the University of Minho, and developed his PhD in Food Technology at the same institution, which earned him the award for the best PhD thesis from the School of Engineering in 2011. He is post-doctoral researcher at the CEB and visiting professor of integrated master's degree in Biological Engineering. He has established partnerships with other universities and research centres, with scientific missions by the University of Aveiro, University College Cork (Ireland), University of Vigo (Spain) and State University of Campinas (Brazil). In 2013, founded the spin-off Improveat by which promotes the development of innovative products for the food industry. He is the author of more than 120 publications, and has been distinguished by several awards and named to the Young Scientist Award by the International Union of Food Science and Technology.