Science of Food
Prototyping the right foods in the best format to deliver health and wellness benefits
Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh
Harjinder, the leader of the Science of Food programme is the Director of the Massey Institute of Food Science and Technology at Massey University, Palmerston North and Director of the Riddet Institute. He has published over 300 research papers in international journals, and is co-inventor of 12 patents which have formed the basis of several commercial innovations. His international standing and outstanding contributions to food science has been recognized by a string of national and international awards, including the Prime Minister’s Science Prize.
The Science of Food Platform is supporting and enabling the High Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge’s mission of “developing high-value foods with validated health benefits to drive economic growth.” The Platform addresses the technological challenges of designing and manufacturing food products that deliver scientifically proven health benefits to meet consumer and industry needs. Under the first tranche of HVN funding, we created new food formats with added health-beneficial plant extracts, previously identified by the HVN Health Platforms, for further clinical validation. Our approach was to develop formulations and technologies that support the enrichment of certain foods with beneficial natural compounds without negatively affecting product quality. These included low-fat yoghurts fortified with a plant bioactive (polyphenol) for managing diabetes, a fruit & nut bar for metabolic health, and a high-fibre kūmara powder to stimulate healthy gut bacteria in young children. These products have been produced at semi-commercial scale and have been tested for health benefits in human clinical trials. The programme also developed a novel, patented technology for incorporating healthy plant extracts into food products in a way that overcomes the downsides of these extracts, such as bitterness and negative reactions with other food ingredients.
The Science of Food Platform maintained active engagement with a number of NZ food and beverage companies throughout the programme. For example, by collaborating with NUKU ki te PukuTM, a cluster of innovative Māori businesses, we co-developed a high-value nutrition bar that was tested for health benefits under the Metabolic Health Platform, targeted to pre-diabetic consumers in China. This relationship afforded us not only the opportunity to provide technical guidance and capability to the Cluster in the development of its trial product, but also allowed us to support the development of best-practice guidance for Māori SMEs translating mātauranga Māori and Māori values into their food innovation business models.
We produced comprehensive reports on trends and developments in regulatory and intellectual property landscapes as well as product launches relevant to Immune, Metabolic, Gut Health and Infant Complementary Feeding Health Platforms, and these reports were made available to industry stakeholders and can be found on the HVN website section The Knowledge.
Furthermore, the Science of Food Platform created new partnerships between the Riddet Institute, Massey University, the Cawthron Institute, University of Otago and AgResearch, which enabled us to initiate unique food science/health science collaborations, resulting in excellent scientific outputs and new Intellectual Property.
Overall, the Science of Food Platform has allowed the development of critical research capabilities in food science that are at the leading edge of food developments internationally and which are critical to complete the mission of the High-Value Nutrition National Challenge. More importantly, by fully embedding food science within each of the Challenge’s Health Platforms, health scientists and food scientists were empowered to work together to achieve the common goals of the Challenge and deliver the most relevant, impactful results to support Aotearoa New Zealand’s long-term, sustainable, agri-food success.