The Commitment to a Healthy and Sustainable Future
Delicious and low-calorie cochayuyo ice cream, gluten-free quinoa-based high-protein pasta, and a natural coating that allows extending the life of fruits are some of the innovations created by UC researchers. They are available to be licensed by companies interested in acquiring these technologies' rights to bring them to market.
Promoting a balanced and nutritious diet, which can respond to consumer demands, and whose production is environmentally sustainable, are some of the current challenges facing our society.
According to a study published in 2019 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 74% of Chile's adult population is overweight or obese. Consequently, Chile is the OECD country with the highest obesity and excess weight, above Mexico (72.5%) and the United States (71%).
According to United Nations projections, the world population will grow by 72% between 1995 and 2050, which implies another challenge for food production systems, the consumption of natural resources, and their impact on the environment.
In this context, the development of innovations for the agrifood sector, based on scientific research, is seen as a response to the national and global challenges. New foods from local ingredients that are widely available and have benefits for human health are opportunities that researchers at Universidad Católica have been promoting for several years.
"The food industry in Chile and the world is facing great changes and challenges that require the integration of innovation as its development pillar. We want to show companies that universities are potential partners and that we can work together in the search for solutions that generate positive impacts on people," said Catalina Bay-Schmith, Technology Transfer Senior Manager for Food and Agriculture.
Cochayuyo is an edible seaweed that can be found throughout almost the whole coast of Chile, New Zealand, and some other places in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a high source of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, iron, and iodine, high in Omega 3 and low in calories. One hundred grams only has 52 calories. But it has a strong taste and for some people, is not so enjoyable.
Sebastian Tobar, a teaching chef at the Nutrition and Dietetics Program, leads a research team made up of academics and students who have developed innovative foods that integrate all the properties and benefits of cochayuyo in popular foods like sausages and ice cream.
"We developed techniques to neutralize the flavor of cochayuyo to produce ice cream, a product widely consumed by children. It is a good option to mask the flavor of the seaweed and turn it into a more friendly food, keeping all the benefits of the cochayuyo," explained Sebastian Tobar.
The Power of Quinoa
Another innovation is developed by a multidisciplinary team integrated by researchers of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program and the Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry. One of them is Professor Francisco Fuentes.
This new initiative seeks to develop pasta based on dried and pulverized quinoa leaves, which currently has no massive commercial use. The result is a gluten-free, high-protein pasta, which offers an alternative for celiacs and people looking for a healthy diet.
Compared to traditional cereals, quinoa is a high-protein food that contains a proportion of essential amino acids that favor its digestion.
It is a good source of vitamins and fiber, it does not contain gluten, and it is easily digested. Its enormous nutritional value has caused it to be considered a "superfood" by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The fresh quinoa-based pasta resulted from research conducted at the QuinoaLab, an initiative formed by a group of interdisciplinary researchers from Universidad Católica, to promote innovative developments from this product.
Another innovation that is ready to go to market is an edible coating made from quinoa flour, which extends the shelf life of minimally processed foods such as fruits and vegetables. The coating prevents weight loss due to dehydration, slowing down microbial growth.
All these innovations are available to be licensed by companies or organizations interested in expanding these technologies. "For the University, it is essential to transfer its research results to society and the market," said Catalina Bay-Schmith.
- Resource-raising for applied R&D.
- Protection of research results.
- Early validation with the industry.
- Definition of strategies for expansion and commercialization.
- Negotiation and signing of contracts with potentially interested companies.