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Biotech Science Technology

The Rise of Nanofoods 369

Posted by kdawson
from the just-a-little-tweak dept.
separsons writes "Researchers are altering foods at the nanoscale level, changing their tiny molecular structures to enhance certain properties. (New Scientist has a more detailed look.) For example, one group of scientists found a way to hide water within individual droplets of oil, making low-fat mayonnaise taste like the real thing. The process can make spices spicier, potato chips healthier, and make diet food taste just like full-calorie snacks. Nanotech can even help combat global malnutrition. But the process is certainly controversial, and food manufacturers are being tight-lipped about exactly what nanofoods they're working on. So can nanotech create a healthier world, or is it just frightening Franken-food?"
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The Rise of Nanofoods

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  • Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by thethibs (882667) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:01PM (#32377950) Homepage

    Make low-fat mayonnaise taste like the real thing?

    Why would anyone want low-fat mayonnaise? Fat is what mayonnaise is about. It's about as pure a food as you can get that doesn't come from a nipple.

    There's nothing you can do to make potato chips healthier; there's nothing healthy in potato chips to enhance.

    New toys are fun, but these guys should find a different justification. How about more nutritious cattle feed?

  • by SOdhner (1619761) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:01PM (#32377964) Homepage Journal
    Ugh. Let's not scare-monger, please. If there are any specific risks or complaints about specific new products, that's fine - but there's nothing inherantly wrong or dangerous about this and lumping braod categories of things in together as "Frankenfoods" is irresponsible. We have always modified our food, this is just a more recent method than some.
  • the taste? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:05PM (#32378032)

    What pisses me off isn't that new technologies are being incorporated, but the lack of labelling and identification.

    * Olestra, remember that one? Eat a bag of chips, get "anal leakage".
    * Or when McDonald's was ordered to strip transfats out of its foods, and the fries suddenly became a sea of suck.
    * And then there was Foi Gras, which several jurisdictions outlawed because PETA said so.

    Guys, it would be way cheaper to spend the money on education than by re-engineering our food into suckitude or to enforce some political ideology on all of us. There are some days when I just want a fucking cheeseburger, with fat oozing out of the sides, a thick slice of cheese, and smothered in a heart attack. Other days, I'll happily eat trail mix or a salad. It's my choice, not yours.

  • by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:07PM (#32378048) Homepage

    I'm lucky enough to live in an area where real food is grown in the ground, pulled out, washed and sold. That means I don't have to buy food where sugar has been replaced by corn syrup (because it's just as good!), oils have been replaced with whatever is cheapest (because it's just as good), cows have been fed corn -- or worse -- instead of wheat (because it's just as good!).

    Every time industry tries to improve food, it seems to make things worse.

    It's one thing to try to develop high yield crops, but engineering high tech food to reduce Americans' calorie intake is insane, when you could simply put sin taxes on soda.

  • Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sperbels (1008585) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:11PM (#32378094)
    [quote] So can nanotech create a healthier world, or is it just frightening Franken-food?"[/quote] That depends on what's being done. You can't paint the whole thing with the broad brush of nanotech and say it's good or bad. The process you use must be made public so that the end product (and waste products) can be evaluated by the whole community as good or bad.
  • Re:Media Twist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amplt1337 (707922) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:12PM (#32378112) Journal

    That's a fine principle, except that all consumers of food have a vested interest in changes to diet. You can eat organic all you want, if wind-bourne pollen from modified crops is fertilizing the neighboring organic fields, you'll wind up eating something whose health effects are not all that certain. And yes, in many cases anti-GMO folks are concerned when there isn't reason to be; but this is our food supply we're talking about, and a precautionary principle is in full effect.

    Besides, self-regulating industries are prone to misrepresenting health effects when they have financial interests at stake. CF Vioxx... It's all well and good to say "let the market sort it out," but market solutions are ex post facto -- you don't know to punish a bad market actor until they've already dumped a billion barrels of oil in your gulf (and that's assuming that you, as a lowly, non-media-empowered consumer, can even break through the asymmetries of information in the first place). Regulations can be over-cautious and even misguided, and they can certainly fail; but they are much more effective than free-market actions in preventing the disaster before it happens repeatedly.

  • by amplt1337 (707922) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:13PM (#32378124) Journal

    New doesn't necessarily equal dangerous, but it also doesn't necessarily equal benign, either.

    I just want to know what I'm buying, and that plenty of somebody elses have done guinea pig duty first.

  • Re:Media Twist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joebok (457904) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:14PM (#32378128) Homepage Journal

    I would agree with you if I thought that the food industry would also play by those rules - use neutral, 3rd party science to determine what was safe, effective, etc. But we know that doesn't happen.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:15PM (#32378146) Journal
    I'm going to guess, just for giggles, the following:

    1.Any regulation of these novel techniques will be resisted on the grounds of "consumer choice"

    2. Any requirement that foodstuffs incorporating these novel techniques be identified as such in any way will be resisted as "confusing" or "alarmist".

    3. People will have no idea what they are buying; but their "decisions" will be held up as a vindication for consumer satisfaction with the new techniques.
  • Good grief (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IICV (652597) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:16PM (#32378160)

    That blog post is entirely useless - all it does is take the New Scientist article, sprinkle in some extra paranoid fear-mongering, mix delicately and bake on high heat for ten minutes.

    Why even link to it? Oh right, because "separsons" is probably the same person as the "Sarah Parsons" who wrote the blog post in the first place.

  • Re:Media Twist (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:21PM (#32378224)

    Besides, self-regulating industries are prone to doing whatever the hell they want when they have financial interests at stake.

    Just for clarification.

    P.S. How do you do a strike on Slashdot? s,slash-s didn't work, neither did strike...

  • by Locklin (1074657) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:22PM (#32378244) Homepage
    In the past, food additives have been developed primarily to lower cost often at the expense of quality. The only problem I have with these new technologies is that they could be used to make a firm red, yet rotten tomatoes. I love the technology, but don't trust the people wielding it.
  • Re:Media Twist (Score:3, Insightful)

    by raddan (519638) * on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:23PM (#32378258)
    The question of using new technology to develop food is hardly a political one. Sure, the discussion has become politicized, with all manner of uninformed people weighing in, but that doesn't mean the discussion is unimportant.

    There have been problems with new foods, like transgenic crops. Trust Us, We're Experts [prwatch.org] details a case where potato crops utilizing a moth gene caused anaphylaxis (resulting in death) in a not-insignificant number of people who ate them. The scientist at Monsanto who was responsible for the problem attempted to raise awareness of the issue and had his career promptly squashed by his employer. Nanotech foods are similarly new.

    That's not to say that new food technologies aren't important. They absolutely are. But the issue not as black-and-white as you make it out to be. Healthy skepticism is not the same thing as a knee-jerk backlash.
  • by maxume (22995) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:24PM (#32378268)

    You suck nanoparticles into your lungs with every breathe.

    ARE YOU DEAD YET?

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:28PM (#32378316) Homepage
    No. But you will be.

    You will be.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:31PM (#32378344) Homepage

    Most of the crap that comes in a cardboard box or plastic container is utter crap to begin with.

    If you want to eat "safely" then dont touch anything that in packaging. go to a meat counter where they can cut and wrap your meat, go to a market to get your veggies... Buy flour to make your own pasta and breads if you cant find a good bakery that uses decent ingredients.

  • by raddan (519638) * on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:32PM (#32378360)
    I'm not so sure that's true. Vaccines are subject to extensive [cdc.gov] scrutiny, because the risks of something going wrong are high. The CDC protocols ensure that there is a process to eliminate problems, and to identify them early if things start to go wrong. With vaccines, the benefit far outweighs the cost.

    There is nothing of the kind in place for food, probably because historically, the public health problems resulting from new food production have been virtually nonexistent. You can hardly compare the two. But we don't really know what the problems will be for transgenic/nano foods. They're too new. It's a small consolation to someone who develops cancer years down the road to say "I guess we should stop making it now." To be honest, I don't know the right answer-- the kind of testing that new drugs get would be prohibitively expensive in the food industry. But it's disingenuous to say that the risk is modest. The risk is unknown.
  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:36PM (#32378412)

    Why would anyone want low-fat mayonnaise? Fat is what mayonnaise is about

    It always manages to surprise me when people say "The point of X is Y bad thing." If something tastes like mayo but doesn't make you fat, that's a good thing to many people. I mean, I'm assuming you don't have weight issues, but surely you can grasp the concept that other people do.

    There's nothing you can do to make potato chips healthier; there's nothing healthy in potato chips to enhance.

    What kind of reasoning is that? Reduce the amount of sodium, fat, cholesterol required to make them taste good and bam, it's healthier.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:40PM (#32378460)

    The crack, mods, the crack! It is not good for you. How is this a troll?

    Where exactly has the food industry actually improved our food in terms of quality and taste? All I can see is a constant trend to bland, overprocessed, undifferentiated, utterly boring crap. I am no zealot, you can't escape that all the time, but whenever I got time I try to prepare my own meals from food that, as the parent stated it, was "grown in the ground, pulled out, washed and sold". I don't even care if it is healthier, it is better, it has an actual taste.

    So, dear food chemists, you can take your nanotech low-fat mayonnaise and shove it. I'll keep making my own when I need some. Yep, it's full of fat, so is the cauliflower gratin I just had - lightly sauteed cauliflower baked in a mix of egg yolk, butter, creme double and roquefort, add salt, pepper, chili power, saffron and lime juice to taste. That's why I don't gorge myself on it. How about just exerting some self-control instead of lowering calorie intake by pseudo-food substitutes?

  • by Panaflex (13191) <convivialdingo AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:43PM (#32378504)

    GMO corn and soybeans are regularly found crossing into other fields, sometimes miles away... you can't stop the spread of pollen.

    I agree with the speaker on many points, but the honest truth is that humanity is rather poor at predicting long-term dangers in products. Radium, mercury, benzene, tobacco, asbestos and PCB's were all thought to be minimally safe, or containable, or easily managed.

    Food is a basic necessity for all humans, and I think we should be making better crops, more nutritional foods, and increasing the sustainability of farming and ranching. But honest labeling should be mandated to allow consumers to make informed choices. Making a bad choice is allowable.

  • Re:Media Twist (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 28, 2010 @12:58PM (#32378690)
    And don't forget that frankenfood is just an unscrupulous "Organic" sticker away from being organic...
  • Re:Media Twist (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Knuckles (8964) <knucklesNO@SPAMdantian.org> on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:05PM (#32378774)

    P.S. How do you do a strike on Slashdot? s,slash-s didn't work, neither did strike...

    You are doing it wrong: You need to convince others to join you in not posting for a given time (usually until your demands are met) and it helps if you can put some pressure on any traitors in your company and/or threaten violence to traitorous outsiders.

  • by DriedClexler (814907) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:09PM (#32378834)

    I hate to be the kid in The Emporer's New Clothes, but beer *does* taste like shit. Or, more accurately, really sting-y, bitter piss that hurts going down, and could NEVER hold a candle, in terms of taste, to a milkshake.

    People. Drink. Beer. To. Get. High.

    The taste? A cover to make it socially acceptable. "Ah, yeah, man, this beer is made by this ultra-special microbrew, man, it's got that really subtle, *refined* taste, that's why it's okay to take a psychoactive substance that would otherwise get banned."

    I've tasted many, many kinds of beer, and have never enjoyed the process of drinking a single one.

    The effects on my mind are a different, and more pleasant story.

    But cut the bullshit, folks.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:15PM (#32378902)
    How about you accept that tastes are different? Sweet crap like sodas and milkshakes trigger my gag reflex. Bitterness is an acquired taste, that much is sure, and I have damn well acquired it. Just because you don't like beer, which I completely accept, doesn't mean that there isn't a whole universe of different, interesting tastes in various kinds of beer. From "subtle, refined" to "what the fuck just hit my taste buds? it hurts, but in a most pleasant way".
  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:19PM (#32378946) Homepage

    There is no need to go screwing around with the basic chemistry of food.

    Simply man up and learn a little self control.

    Mayo doesn't need to be "made healthier", you just need to avoid pigging out on it.

    In the amounts you should be eating it in, it's harmfulness should not matter.

  • by DriedClexler (814907) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:31PM (#32379126)

    How about you accept that tastes are different? Sweet crap like sodas and milkshakes trigger my gag reflex. Bitterness is an acquired taste, that much is sure, and I have damn well acquired it. Just because you don't like beer, which I completely accept, doesn't mean that there isn't a whole universe of different, interesting tastes in various kinds of beer.

    Well, I did consider this possibility, and the way I ruled out the possibility was this: I went to the wine connosieurs who were totally perplexed by my position, and started them asking more *specific* questions about their liking of alcoholic drinks, and it turned out, they have the *same answers* as I do. Even the wine connosieur, who spends lots of his money on buying *just the right* wine agreed that milkshakes taste better.

    According to your hypothesis, people like that simply shouldn't exist. Your belief would claim that either they really prefer the taste of the wine, or they admit it doesn't taste good. But here we have someone who *doesn't* prefer the taste of wine, yet says it's good.

    Want to try a more complex hypothesis and see if it works?

    Hey, I've got some non-alcoholic beer that's indistinguishable in blind taste tests from your favorite regular beer and costs half as much. Wanna buy some? Didn't think so.

    (And I think it's ultra-cheap milkshakes that get your gag reflex, not normal ones. FWIW, sodas do sting going down for me too, but I've come to tolerate it for the other tastes ... I make no pretense that I have a "taste" for stingyness though.)

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:48PM (#32379440)
    Unhealthy? As compared to your healthy milk shakes?
  • by drsquare (530038) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:02PM (#32379734)

    It's called an 'acquired taste'. It's what happens when we get older and grow out of baby food: your tastes change to appreciate stronger and more sophisticated flavours. Some people never grow up and spend their adult lives eating children's foods such as milkshake.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:52PM (#32380656)

    ... not healthier. Like all those fake food stuff that already exists: Fake cheese, fake prawns etc.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday May 28, 2010 @03:12PM (#32381118) Homepage

    "altering foods at the nanoscale level, changing their tiny molecular structures to enhance certain properties"

    Seems there's a word for altering materials at the nanoscale, and changing their molecular structures.

    Let me think... molecular properties... hmmm... yes, I've got it! We call it "chemistry".

    Scientists propose doing chemistry on food! Stop the presses! --What? Food chemistry has been an applied science since the 1700s? It's not news?

    Oh,

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by R.Mo_Robert (737913) on Friday May 28, 2010 @03:18PM (#32381218)

    How about you show some proof that matters instead if regurgitating crap.

    Since you asked (even though nature is on my side, and the burden of proof is really on you to show that it doesn't matter):

    How about the evolution of cows (they evolved to eat grass, not corn--they have a rumen and and eat grass; we can't, but we can eat them...should be a nice system, right?) and the sad state of both cattle and human health since the widespread adoption of corn diets for cows? Corn turns their stomach/rumen acidic (it's usually neutral), which both opens up the possibility for the evolution of acid-resistant E. coli and other bacteria (many are killed by our stomach's acid, but not the famed strains that kill people because of this--there's a reason we haven't heard about them until the last few decades) and also makes the cows themselves more prone to falling ill (one of the reasons, in addition to their crowded living conditions, that they are injected with antibiotics, even if they are not [yet?] sick--and I'm sure you know that overuse of antibiotics has consequences of its own).

    Of course, there are benefits on the human side, too. Grass fed beef has lower levels of saturated fat than corn-fed beef. (The nutritiousness of your food depends on the health of the animal or plant it came from; not all is created equal, contrary to what the USDA seems to think.)

    I could go on, but you can find information just as easily as I can. Feeding cows corn does matter, both for the animal, you, and the planet as a whole.

  • by izomiac (815208) on Friday May 28, 2010 @06:11PM (#32383804) Homepage
    Psychologically, sure. Physiologically, children can taste a lot better than an adult. Four times better, in fact, since you lose taste buds as you get older, plus I'm sure taste-bud density drops as your mouth gets bigger. (People also vary by ~50% IIRC.) We don't appreciate stronger flavors as we get older, we tolerate them since we can't taste them as well as we used to. Personally, I couldn't stand spicy food as a child, but today I rarely notice it, so I pay more attention to the other flavors in the food (e.g. most hot sauces taste like vinegar now).

    Children are also known for being picky about vegetables. That makes sense, since many (probably most) plants are poisonous, and a child has no business trying to discern which are and which aren't. So, evolutionarily, it's better to just avoid them entirely. If your parents force feed you vegetables, you'll probably learn to like them, psychologically. Or you'll be defiant and never like them, although that could just as easily be individual preference manifesting itself in childhood.

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