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Nanotechnology is changing how we think about food. More than just an exploration of new recipes, food science includes manipulating matter at the atomic level — changing the chemical compositions and altering molecular structures.

A report by the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy says that by 2040, nanotechnology will be incorporated into every aspect of food production. Newly designed nanostructures are already being incorporated into our food and changing how food tastes, gets absorbed by the body and stays fresh. It is a process more like architecture than cooking. Here is just a small sampling of the shape of nanofoods to come:

1. Playing Legos with flavor

Ever wished the taste of delicious food would linger? Molecular gastronomy is a new area in which chefs collaborate with food scientists to make this kind of experience possible. Salvona Technologies has created nanoencapsulated flavors (like very, very tiny gel caps) that adhere to the mouth, prolonging the taste sensation.

Scientists are just beginning to unlock the secrets of taste. By creating nanoparticles that fasten onto taste receptors in the tongue, they can control how we experience individual flavors. By changing the chemical bonds that hold molecules and atoms together, tiny building blocks can be assembled in ways that make salt saltier or sweets sweeter.

Companies are also researching “on-demand foods,” whose flavors or appearance could be altered on the spot to suit the eater. Thousands of nanoparticles containing different flavors or color enhancers would be incorporated into food, but they would stay dormant unless specifically triggered. A purple velvet cake? Why not? A super spicy vindaloo? Coming right up.

2. A new kind of (nano)layer cake

Castor oil is synonymous with unhappy faces, but encapsulating fish oil into tiny nanospheres means never having to taste it again. That’s how Tip Top Bakeries in Australia adds Omega 3 fatty acid to its bread.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are devising layer-cake-like structures in which each nanolayer contains a different nutrient, vitamin or antimicrobial agent encapsulated into thousands of tiny spheres. The individual nanosphere is designed to release when exposed to water or a change in pH level. The sheres surfaces could even hold a bioadhesive designed to attach to a specific area of the body (like the small intestine) for optimal absorption.

3. Rx repasts

A new class of foods, called nutraceuticals, are being designed to treat illnesses, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Scientists are developing new types of tiny structures, such as a matrix containing nanoparticles, that would release substances like glucose in stages. They are also developing nanofoams which form coaxial tubes to deliver medications or other needed substances directly to capillaries.

4. When food talks to your refrigerator

With nanosensors, sips of spoiled milk could become history.  When embedded in food containers, the nanosensors can monitor freshness by analyzing gases emitted by food. An attached litmus strip changes color to alert the consumer. AZTI-Tecnalia, a Spanish food research company, has already developed tags that monitor the freshness of fish from ship to shopping cart.

Taking that a step further, information received by the sensors could be transmitted using tiny radiofrequency devices. While these devices are about 10 years away from actual use, they could be incorporated directly into a package structure, making them cheaper and more efficient than silicon chips. Unlike barcodes, which have to be scanned, nanosensors could transmit real-time information about food directly to the processor, grocer or even your smart refrigerator.

Nanosensors could also provide a world of information to shoppers. A consumer could tell if a pear was sweet or tart, ripe or crisp. Organic food could be scanned for pesticides. Nanosensors could also analyze DNA. People could find out if the corn or wheat in their muffin was genetically modified, or the exact contents of that package of tuna.

5. Food that glows in the dark

Researchers are also incorporating nanotechnology into food packaging as a high-tech means of keeping food fresh or alerting us when it isn’t. Kodak, for example, has developed antimicrobial nanofilms. When added to packages, these films absorb oxygen and keep food fresh. Agro Micron, a privately held biotech company, developed a spray designed to bind Salmonella or E. coli microbes to a protein surface. When bound, the proteins begin to glow. The brighter the glow, the worse the contamination.

Beer reacts badly to plastic bottles. But Miller Brewing Company uses clay nanoparticles to create shatterproof bottles that increase a beer’s shelf life by six months. Have trouble getting that last bit of ketchup out of the bottle? Researchers are developing a lining 20 nanometers thick that prevents food from sticking.

6 (bonus). No free lunch

The prospects for better, smarter foods seem dizzying, but there are reasons to be concerned about the widespread use of these small technologies. The impact of fortifying food with nanoparticles containing vitamins or other nutrients has not been thoroughly studied, nor is it regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Just like in physics, particles are different at the quantum level. Nanoparticles have an inverse relationship between size and surface. When a particle’s diameter reaches the nanoscale level, surface area increases exponentially. Dosages of medication or nutraceuticals become more complex as size decreases.

Manufactured nanomaterials released into the waste stream could pose a new range of environmental risks. It is not known if nanomaterials will accumulate along the food chain, be taken up by plants, absorbed by animals or accrete in groundwater.

Use of radio frequency information devices and other nanosensors raise privacy issues. If food purchased by the consumer is tracked, who controls the information? Environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth have mounted consumer rights and information campaigns. Friends of the Earth warns that there is a potential for nanosensors to gather and track an individual’s shopping habits, health profile, medications and genetic makeup, and this information could then be sold to advertisers.

Ultimately, much of the research on nanofoods is conducted behind closed doors at large multinational food and beverage companies, and their research, considered intellectual property, is not published or peer reviewed. At this point, any decisions about using these developments are made solely by the company and divulged at the company’s discretion, which puts consumers and regulators at a big disadvantage when it comes to developing safeguards against these tiny developments.


  • dawne

    We do not need our food being “tampered with”. the more natural the food, the healthier we will all be.

  • Traciforwood

    Nevertheless, this is interesting food for thought!

  • youkillme2040

    This just totally pisses me off. I’m so tired of people coming up with ways to mess with nature, instead of respecting it. It will bite our children, I’ll probably be gone by then. If I’d known they’d screwed, I’d never had them..they’re going to be further tortured. Bad enough all the plastic, petrol products for vitamins, fertillzer. God forgive us.

  • Muslim

    Do you realize the danger that you are getting involved in?

    The potential for gene modification means the potential to harm.

    If you send a nanobot into the human being to read the DNA of the human being, what happens when you have a President like Bush in the White House who has the potential to demand that the American public be made pliant in the name of the “war on terror” to safeguard the American people; or that he orders the scientists whom he forces through “war on terror” legislation to alter the psychology of the public, on the genetic level, so that they all become warlike and can be sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan to go on rampages killing everything in sight?

    Already security cameras are being placed on many streets. What happens when there is a nanobot that can be aerosolized and inhaled by the public, so that electrical signals from the brain can be sent to a central computer to through wifi connection to virtually read the minds of the public?

    What kind of evil technology are you developing and selling the public on?

  • Univ.Scientist

    Nanoparticles are half the size of DNA. They have been studied for a dozen years and shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, cause lung granulomas, liver problems, intestinal polyps, and even cross into the brain from inhaling or through the skin. DO not eat any of this, watch it closely, and agitate for labeling.

  • Khemetcom

    Grow and prepare your own food!..or live with the consequences.

  • Der Kieler

    This one is really great – i love it. Thanx a lt so far …!

  • Florence Carole

    How I’d like to see the use of nanotechnology in future refrigerators. By getting a message from your fridge that you now have a ripe mango or spoiled milk, wasted food will be a thing of the past.

    refrigerators for sale

  • Anonymous

    I definitely see the culinary benefit to nanofoods. The ability to vary textures and flavors seems amazing


  • Tayro

    I cant see how anyone is ok with this crap. You have the best tools built into your body to tell if food is good or not. Want better tasting food ,
    learn to cook. Wanna know if your food is fresh, look at it smell it taste it ya lazy bums. Let me guess “I don’t have time”.
    You sheeple won’t be happy till your told when to  fart or smile.

  • Sustainablesouth

    Nowhere do I see the long term fate of nano particles in our food and elsewhere discussed. A little ecology lesson for our sociopathic nano-scientists: Everything is connected; everything must go somewhere; there is no free lunch. What happens to particles after they’re ingested and urinated into toilets? Back into waterways they go, where they erode the food chain from the bottom up, starting with killing bacteria in the guts of tiny river and ocean species. But what’s less clear is whether sub-molecular nano particles are small enough to evaporate into the sky clinging to water molecules. If that happens, storms will rain the stuff down all over the earth and there will be nowhere on the planet without water containing these industrial products. All life is mostly water. That means everything alive on earth including you and me will be composed of these particles after a few decades. They cross the blood/brain barrier and damage the liver. What we’ll be looking at here is the slow decline of all life on the planet so we could make that milk last a little longer before spoiling. How ironic if we bring about our decline this way rather than through the obvious terrors we’ve gotten used to like nuclear annihilation.

  • Draconinja12

    the apple is unnaturally square…

  • fred


  • connor wray

    dis is amayzennnnn :OOOOO

  • connor wray

    SQUARE APPLESS!!!!!!!!!