What are the practical applications of centi-foods?

Centi-technology is the science of the small but not too much. Measured in hundredths tenths of a metre, centi-particles are similar in scale to the width of your fingers or the thickness of your laptop computer. You could fit thousands of centi-particles inside your bath leaving ample room to spare.

Manipulating food at this scale could help to develop lower-fat foods that still taste great. This technology should not necessarily be alarming, because the human body is already used to dealing with centiscale food. Our teeths break the centi-food we eat down to nano-sized chunks so that the body can absorb nutrients in the intestine, for example.

The food industry has unwittingly been using centi-technology for years.[1] Toast is thus generally prepared from bread slices which are about 1 centimeter thick. Researchers are developing ways to control more precisely the thickness of toast using new tools called knifes and assemblies of those also known as slicers.

"also known as slicer"

“also known as slicer”

A variety of centi-technology to be used in food is in development, and a few products have hit the market; these includes tools such as spoons and forks but also ingredients such as sprouts and mushrooms. But experts say that the traditionally conservative food industry is unlikely to adopt centi-technology on a large scale unless it has compelling benefits for their business or their customers.

So where do centi-particles end up if the body cannot break them down? Well, researchers are just beginning to address that question but I think you know. Aside from these studies, there is relatively little toxicology data on ingested centi-particles, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that the centi-particles are dangerous, says the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

Try to find out the details of what food companies are doing with centi-technology, and you’re likely to draw a blank. “The application of centi-technologies in the food industry is at an early stage.” So says the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, which represents food manufacturers (but what else would they say…).

Nestlé says that it is keeping a watchful eye on developments, but not doing any of its own research. Heinz takes the same line, saying that it is monitoring the field but not actively participating.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency, says they encourage companies to come to them with information about what they’ve developed, but so far there have only been a “small number of enquiries” from companies developing new foods using centi-technology. For all the promise of centi-foods, he adds, “there’s a lot of talk about it but very few products to show for it”.

Note: this post is adapted with tiny tiny modifications from this piece by Katharine Sanderson in the Guardian

[1] « Par ma foi ! il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose sans que j’en susse rien, et je vous suis le plus obligé du monde de m’avoir appris cela. » Molière, 1670, court of Louis XIV at the château of Chambord

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