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Enzyme time.

Why enzymes are approaching their heyday in the fortified food market.

Enzymes suffer from an image problem - or rather a lack of image. While consumers readily agree that vitamins, minerals and even a variety of nutraceuticals are important for health, most people haven't a clue what enzymes do in the body, or their benefits.

Despite their lack of fame, however, enzymes are poised on the brink of nutritional stardom. In fact, dietary supplement manufacturers are already seeing the marketing power of enzymes. Food processors in the United States, though, are lagging behind in marketing products with added enzymes for health benefit reasons.

Truth be told, the vitamins and minerals we all know couldn't do their work without enzymes. Enzymes are protein catalysts for a variety of chemical reactions in the body. Approximately 3,000 enzymes are involved in processes ranging from digesting food into component nutrients, to transporting nutrients, to stimulation of immune reactions to fight invading germs. These enzymes are grouped into six classes: hydrolases (including proteases, amylases and lipases that break down the main nutrients - fats, carbohydrates and proteins), isomerases, ligases, lyases, oxidoreductases and transferases.

Aside from their "basic" functions, enzymes are now being marketed for their specific health benefits - much in the way nutraceuticals are. "Bromelain, which is a protease from pineapple, may have some anti-inflammatory properties which can help decrease muscle soreness and minimize wear and tear on the muscle. Sports drinks are a natural fit for bromelain not only because of its function, but because beverages are a good way to deliver enzymes - the enzymes can be easily diluted by the processor," explains Peter Moodie, director of sales and marketing at Enzyme Development Corp. in New York City.

While food manufacturers here are taking the cautious route toward adding enzymes for health, according to Moodie, enzyme-added foods are big business in Japan. "Products marketed as 'digestive aids' which contain combinations of lipase, protease or amylase are very popular in Japan," notes Moodie. Many enzyme-fortified products - especially beverages - are on the market in Japan.

According to John Diehl, vice president of sales and marketing at Amano Enzyme U.S.A. in Lombard, Ill., "Digestive enzymes in Japan are considered pharmaceuticals - not nutraceuticals - and they're a huge deal." Digestive enzymes currently make up the largest category of enzyme supplements, with two of the biggest sellers being papain and bromelain.

Yet digestive aids are just the first category of products in which enzymes have hit the big time. Proteolytic enzymes may be the next big hit. Proteolytic enzymes have immune-enhancing effects and anti-inflammatory action, according to some enzyme experts.

While the United States is playing catch-up, Diehl sees progress slowly being made. "A lot of things going on now are still in the 'what if' stage. Some companies are committed to making this a legitimate business with real scientific studies behind it," says Diehl.

Some examples of applications that Amano is working on include developing a series of enzymes to help sugars and starches bypass the upper GI tract so that they can make oligosaccharides, which would then become a nutrient source of "good" bacteria in the gut. "Amano is also in the final stages of getting a phytase enzyme approved for human food. This will help make natural phosphorous more bioavailable, so it won't need to be added to foods as often," says Diehl.

Enzyme manufacturers are poised and ready for food processors to take up the cause. Diehl acknowledges that "a lot of this new product development needs to be market driven, but we can put enzyme systems together to make it work."

Making sure that consumers can compare products and know what they're buying is important for food and beverage products that have enzymes added as a functional ingredient. "From a consumer perspective, the most important consideration is the enzyme activity quoted on the product label. If enzyme activity isn't specified on the label, the consumer is probably getting nothing more than expensive maltodextrin," says Moodie. The Enzyme Technical Association has published guidelines for enzyme activity labeling of supplements, specifying that "Enzymes in dietary supplements should be measured and labeled on an activity basis and a weight basis." The same type of labeling guidelines will, no doubt, be useful in food and beverage products, too.

The six classes of enzymes

* Hydrolases (proteases, amylases, lipases)

* Isomerases

* Ligases

* Lyases

* Oxidoreductases

* Transfereases
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Title Annotation:enzymes in food products; Foods of Tomorrow: Nutrition
Author:Broihier, Kitty
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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