Iron can be a difficult ingredient to work with because of its reactivity. Ever seen a piece of rusty metal? That’s just the start; iron reacts with a wide array of elements beyond oxygen. It can impart off flavors, degrade other ingredients and interfere with their absorpotion, too.
But the need for iron fortification, for younger women, pregnant and nursing mothers and children is pressing, especially in areas of the world where diets are suboptimal, so suppliers have sought ways to provide this essential mineral in a stable and bioavailable form.
One of these is SunActive, a branded iron fortifcation from Taiyo International, a Japanese ingredient supplier. The company recently introduced a powdered form of the ingredient more suitable for foods and beverages.
“The biggest issue with iron is that it is ionized in the stomach and causes irritation,” Scott Smith, vice president of Taiyo. “We control the particle size of the iron and we stabilize that size via emulsifiers.”
“The new product doesn’t use soy anymore and is approved for infant formulas,” Smith said.
The stability issues with iron have long been recognized and chelation is another effective way of dealing with this. But Smith said Taiyo’s technology has the additional benefit of providing a way to tailor where the ingredient is absorbed. The way Taiyo coats the particles enables them to bypass the stomach to be absorbed in the small intestine, Smith said. Release of iron in the stomach can interfere with the absorption of other minerals and has side effects including cramping and constipation, Smith said.
Taiyo’s ability to deliver teh ingredient at very small particle sizes forms the basis for claims of greater bioavailability. The small particle size also means the ingredient can be effectively dispersed in beverages without precipitating, Smith said.
Taiyo uses ferric pyrotophosphate as its base iron formulation, which is a white powder with a mild taste. But without the proprietary coating, it wouldn’t perform well when compared with the baseline absorption values of ferric sulfate, Smith said.
“If we were just delivering ferric pyrophosphate on its own, it would be very poorly absorbed,” Smith said.
Smith said the demand for Taiyo’s ingredient and other stable forms of iron has opened up in recent years with the segmentation of the food market. Iron supplementation used to be restricted to just a few products, such as vitamin formulas (remember Geritol and ‘iron poor blood?’). But that picture has changed with explosion of various forms of functional food.
“There weren’t a lot of foods that were targeted specifically to certain sexes,” Smith said. “Most men don’t need additional iron in their diet.”
And Smith said there is rising demand for stable iron forms to go into products meant for populations in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world, with as many as 2 billion people being classified as anaemic. And the organization said it is the only micronutrient deficiency that is prevalent in industrialized countries.
Smith said WHO has recommended SunActive as an “ideal fortificant” in juices and drinks, bouillon cubes and dairy products. And the ingredient holds approved health claims from the European Food Safety Authority.