It is also said to provide a ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that will help restore the imbalance of these fats gained from the typical western diet to a more healthy one.
Thought to be the first commercially available omega-3 from a fruit, Kiwifruit Omega 3 contains more than 65 per cent omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) along with around 15 per cent omega-6 (as linoleic acid), marking it out from other plant sources of omega-3s.
There is some concern among nutritionists that modern diets are too rich in omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega 3s. But while the new kiwi product also contains omega-6, it is at a lower level than flaxseed oil, for example, which has around 40 per cent ALA and a higher omega-6 level.
"This is what makes the oil really interesting," explained Tony Jacobs, managing director of PharmaLink Services Europe, a company that markets New Zealand and Australian plant and marine extracts in Europe.
There has been some discussion about whether ALA contributes as much omega-3 as a concentrated DHA/EPA product, as the body is thought to only convert a small percentage into these omega-3 fats. However it is also argued that ALA in its own right has direct health benefits, such as for the skin.
Jacobs stressed that the product cannot be directly compared with concentrated omega-3 as it contains the fats from which our bodies manufacture omega-3 themselves.
"We have taken it in the original matrix from the seed and kept it stable. Our logic is that fish eat plant material and metabolise it into whatever they need. We're giving humans the same opportunity."
Product development has taken two years and is based on an expensive process. First the delicate kiwi seeds must be separated from the New Zealand-grown fruit and then they are shipped to Germany where Flavex uses supercritical extraction with CO2 to produce a stable oil.
Kiwis are known to have one of the highest vitamin and mineral content of all fruit but the nutritional value of their seeds was unexpected. However a recent study by a Norwegian team also found that eating two to three kiwifruit a day can significantly lower risk of blood clotting and reduce fat in the blood, promoting heart health. It is not known if this effect is related to the omega-3 content in the seeds.
According to Frost&Sullivan, over 50 per cent of consumers in the US and UK are now aware of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, with the vast majority of these consumers also aware that fish oil, and therefore fish oil supplements, are a good sources.
But while a growing number of people might also be able to identify flax oil as a potential source, the research analysts suggest that most are also completely unaware of the wide variety of other omega-3 sources already available on the nutritional supplement market.
Educating consumers about kiwifruit fatty acids may therefore prove challenging, particularly without studies on the product itself. The final product is also expensive, at around €100 per kilo, compared to just €1 per kilo for fish oil, or €4 for flax.
However it may gain some fans, particularly in niche sectors like cosmetics, or for vegetarian supplements or foods.
"We have some French cosmetics companies using it in skin cream for anti-ageing. It would also suit sophisticated supplement users, probably vegetarians, and may come from a natural therapist," Jacobs told NutraIngredients.com.
Fish oils dominate Europe's €160 million omega-3 market but there remains an industry preference for plant-source supplements as well as issues with the fishy taste. Other vegetarian sources include flax oil (4 per cent of the total market) as well as algae-derived fatty acids, also sold at a premium price.
But the kiwifruit product will remain a niche product, with the upper limit on the seed at 10 tons, according to Jacobs. It is currently being developed for encapsulation, with the aim of being ready for display on the Flavex stand at HiE next month.
"We will look for a company specialized in non-animal products," said Jacobs.
Recent analysis by Frost & Sullivan shows that the annual growth rate for the total European omega-3 PUFA market is likely to stabilise at a rate of 8 per cent in coming years although the less mature United States market is still seeing growth rates of over 20 per cent.