Some fatty acids, particularly omega-6 and omega-3, are considered essential fatty acids, as the human body cannot produce this group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and intake must occur through diet. Research studies have shown strong evidence that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may improve resistance to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and rheumatoid arthritis. Foods with high concentrations of unsaturated fatty acids include seeds, nuts, certain fruits, vegetable oil and fish. Since consumption of naturally occurring fatty acids remains low in Western countries, omega-3 fatty acids are increasingly added to foods such as cereals, cookies, and long shelf-life products. Functional foods are enriched with ingredients that provide added function to the finished product, most often related to health-promotion or disease prevention. Microencapsulation is a technology used to fortify foods with omega-3 fish oil as outlined in Figure 1. Various fish oil microencapsulation technologies are available, including spray-dried emulsions, complex coacervation, alginate-based microspheres, submerged coextrusion, melt injection, calcium carbonate capsules, and γ-cyclodextrins. While such fortification can provide benefits, there are also drawbacks: these oils are highly susceptible to oxidation, which can negatively impact product flavour and reduce shelf-life.
Veronica Wong, a 3rd year University of Waterloo Chemical Engineering student, investigated the microencapsulation production process during a work term at the University of Waterloo. To provide context, she considered a fictitious company, Cookies"R"Us, which was considering a commercially available omega-3 PUFA process for cookie fortification.
The teaching objective of this case is to illustrate topics in critical thinking, design, research, and food fortification. The case study could be used in courses in nutrition, food science, biology and biochemistry. The case could be used as a conceptual design case for CHE 100 (Chemical Engineering Concepts). It could also be used to complement lecture material, specifically in CHE 161 (Engineering Biology) and CHE 564 Food Process Engineering.