Diversity and the urge to explore create fertile soil for innovative, healthy food

In the foods industry, Saxony-Anhalt has established itself as the location for every trend between the traditional and the cutting edge.

Vitamin D from the hen-house, raw-food-grade confectionery, cholesterol-lowering microalgae: in the fertile soil of diversity and the urge to explore, innovative developments in the food industry are currently thriving in Saxony-Anhalt. With an annual turnover of 7.879 billion Euros (2017), the foods industry (food products, animal feed products, beverages) is the biggest single industry in the federal state in the heart of Germany. This turnover is generated by some 180 businesses with 22,000 employees. In addition to businesses of this kind with at least 20 employees, the wider picture is also characterised by small and micro-sized businesses as well as more than 500 direct marketers from the agricultural sector, including both guardians of tradition and cutting-edge trend-setters.

Among the businesses maintaining local traditions are Salzwedeler Baumkuchen, bakers of traditional pyramid cakes from the town of Salzwedel. This company bakes its products by hand over open fire according to recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation and market their regional specialty with the regional “g.g.A.” trademark protection. One of the trendsetting businesses, in contrast, is Vitavitee GmbH from the Harz region, which specialises on superfood products from all over the world, including Goji, Aloe Vera, Maca and Schisandra. Then there’s Vitasprosse GmbH from the Altmark region, which provides raw food enthusiasts with creations for sweet and savoury delights. Fruity confectionery, cakes, biscuits, bread, crackers – it is all available in raw food quality.

The trend towards nutrient-rich nutritional alternatives in the Altmark region – situated in the northern part of the federal state – is also the focus of the businesses Roquette Klötze GmbH & Co. KG and Pure Raw Knufmann GmbH. Microalgae, which are produced in glass tube systems some 500 kilometres in length, are processed by Pure Raw into, among others, chlorella tablets for food supplementation or into spirulina powder for magical blue drinks and foods. As part of a joint project between the masters course at the Faculty of Economics at the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg and the company Agrarmarketinggesellschaft Saxony-Anhalt mbH, “additional markets and distribution channels for algae and superfood products for the healthy nutrition and nutritional supplement are currently being explored", reports Managing Director of AMG, Jörg Bühnemann. The target countries are Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In addition to organic retailers and food retailers, the marketing is to be extended to specific hotels, health centres and nutritional consultants.

Increasing amounts of products have the goal of helping reduce the consumption of sugar, animal protein and saturated fatty acids, thereby countering obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. "To reach people who don’t want to go without the food they enjoy, we want to develop food products which are similar to conventional products but free from specific negative substances, or to which natural constituent products that contain valuable ingredients have been added,” explains Prof. Dr. med. Gabriele Stangl, a nutritional scientist at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. Together with her colleagues from the Universities of Jena and Leipzig, as part of the joint nutriCARD project, Stangl and her team are conducting research which has been funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In the scope of their responsibilities, they are addressing the development of healthy, innovative foods, investigating their mode of action in the human body, and working to ensure product safety.

In funding phase 1, Gabriele Stangl experimented with daylight, especially the use of ultraviolet light in a hen house. The specialist lighting succeeded in stimulating the formation of vitamin D in the laying hens, allowing the vitamin D content of the eggs to be increased fivefold. Since around one-in-two people in Germany suffer from a lack of vitamin D during the winter, a breakfast-time egg of this kind could make a small contribution to the long-term stability of their bones and the strengthening of their immune system. Stangl explains that it now seems unlikely that vitamin D plays any role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. This is also an important finding from the nutriCARD research project. The situation regarding phosphate in the diet is different, however. In this respect, the scientists have discovered an exceptionally interesting impact on cardiovascular risk factors.

Funding phase 2 began in May 2018. Among other areas, the scientists have continued their research on the effects of phosphate: "Many people absorb significantly more phosphate than they actually need. Once the kidneys are diseased, that becomes a problem, "explains the nutritionist. “Right now, we have very little knowledge of the effects of phosphate in healthy people, however."

In the joint NovAL project, the Central German Universities of Halle, Leipzig and Jena are cooperating with Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Köthen in search of special algae. "There are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 microalgae, but very few have been put to use so far," explains Stangl. "There are species of algae which produce nutrients that are of value to us. In addition to Vitamins D and B12, we have focused on phytosterols, plant cholesterol that lowers the cholesterol levels. "At Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Köthen, the most promising strains of microalgae are currently being cultivated. The objective is to harness these microalgae for human nutrition. Several business partners have already signalled their interest, including a sausage- and canning factory, a bakery company and a farm dairy.

"We have registered nutriCARD as a brand for the new products that we have developed in the Nutrition Cluster,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. med. Stangl. Therefore, if a product has the nutriCARD label, it contains good quality ingredients.

Author: Bettina Koch

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