Omega-3 fatty acids recently were named one of the most successful functional ingredients ever by Euromonitor International, Chicago. Although formulations featuring omega-3 fatty acids in foods and beverages continue to increase, the greatest obstacle for omega-3 remains the lack of consumer knowledge about the essential fatty acids, the research firm stated in a May report.

Globally, the volume consumption of omega-3 posted a 50 percent increase between 2004 and 2009, according to data from Euromonitor’s ingredients database. Omega-3 inclusion also posted a 10 percent gain in 2009 to 13,218 tons of omega-3 ingredients used globally, it said. North America represents 20 percent of the global market. Euromonitor predicts the U.S. market will continue to rise by a projected 43 percent growth figure through 2014.

Consumer knowledge might not be widespread, but it is growing, especially as manufacturers increase omega-3 inclusion in foods and beverages. Research also has helped grow awareness as studies indicate omega-3 can have benefits of cognitive health in infants and children, help maintain cognitive function for mature adults and visual acuity, says Cristina Munteanu, senior technical services specialist for GTC Nutrition, a division of Corn Products International, Westchester, Ill.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permitted a qualified health claim that eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Last year, the European Union (EU) added recommendations of daily omega-3 consumption for healthy adults. The EU suggests adults should consume 2 grams of alphalinolenic acid (ALA) and 250 grams of EPA/DHA intake per day.

The difference between omega-3 ALA, DHA and EPA fatty acids also has become important for some consumers, says Cassandra France-Kelly, senior public relations manager for Martek Biosciences, Columbia, Md.

“Back several years ago, consumers only understood omega-3s,” France-Kelly says. “Now they’re starting to understand that there’s different kinds of omega-3s and that different kinds of omega-3s do different things for them.”

Flaxseed and linseed oils provide plant-derived ALA omega-3 fatty acids, which are a cheaper source, Euromonitor reported, but may not provide as many biologically available omega-3s, suppliers say. ALA is beneficial but converts into EPA and DHA in the body at a rate of 2 percent, says Chet Rao, marketing manager of functional and nutritional products for Hormel Specialty Products, Austin, Minn. EPA and DHA, commonly derived from marine sources, are the compounds that have scientifically proven health benefits, Rao says.

Hormel offers shelf-stable omega-3 fish oils in its Eterna Omegasource line of EPA and DHA ingredients. Eterna Omegasource is available for cloudy and clear beverages. The ingredients have demonstrated to provide stability for more than six months and can be incorporated in shelf-stable, non-refrigerated and non-frozen beverage applications, the company says. In addition, Hormel Specialty Products has the technology to combine fat soluble ingredients like omega-3s with other fat soluble ingredients, such as vitamin D, vitamin E and CoQ10, Rao says.

The inclusion of omega-3 EPA and DHA into beverages offers greater convenience to the consumer who may not have the time or inclination to consume foods or take pills containing omega-3 EPA or DHA, says Ocean Nutrition Canada, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ocean Nutrition Canada developed MEG-3 fish oil powder with a carbohydrate layer that overlaps its existing double shell technology. MEG-3 fish oil powder can be incorporated into powdered mixes for juice, meal replacement, protein, weight management and sports drink applications, the company says. In addition, Ocean Nutrition Canada also offers PowderLoc double encapsulated powder as well as food grade oil for juice and milk applications, it says.

OmegaPure, a division of Omega Protein Corp., Houston, offers highly-refined, long-chain omega-3 fish oil with EPA and DHA under the same name. OmegaPure food grade fish oil is paired with a selection of custom antioxidant blends for oxidative stability, the company says. The company also offers a natural food grade OmegaPure oil that includes rosemary and tocopherols for an all-natural antioxidant blend, the company says.

Also derived from fish, GTC Nutrition’s Nu-Mega is a DHA-rich ingredient made from tuna oil, Munteanu says. Nu-Mega is available in both oil and powder forms that can be formulated into opaque ready-to-drink applications or powdered beverages. Nu-Mega’s powdered form uses a patented microencapsulation technology that protects the omega-3 fish oils against oxidation and provides a taste barrier, which prevents the “fishy” taste, Munteanu says.

In contrast, Martek Biosciences offers Life’sDHA, which is a vegetarian source of DHA derived from algae. The company manufactures its own microalgae and Life’sDHA is a sustainable source of omega-3, the company says. Life’sDHA has been incorporated into milk, soymilk, beverage mixes and juices, France-Kelly says.

“As beverage manufacturers are looking to create healthier, lower calorie, low sugar but also with some functional benefits to it, they’re going to be looking to omega-3, which is one of the hottest functional ingredients to use to fortify,” she says.

The Wright Group, Crowley, La., offers custom nutrition premixes with omega-3 ingredients. Its Balanced Solutions line of product concepts with omega-3 premixes include a probiotic soy beverage with 50 mg. of omega-3 per 1-cup serving of the beverage. The beverage includes The Wright Group’s SuperCoat Omega-3, which are available in various powdered options.

Zymes LLC, Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., offers a solubilizing technology for omega-3 and other lipophilic ingredients, says Ken Beck, director in business development group.

“One of the major challenges in the industry is keeping omega-3 from tasting like fish or smelling like rotten fish because it’s a highly oxidative compound and it doesn’t stay stable in these products,” Beck says. “That’s really the novel aspect of our delivery system is that we not only can get these ingredients into these products, but we can do it in a way that we can maintain the freshness of the product so that the consumer experience lives up to the promise.”

Zymes uses patented Ubisol-Aqua technology combined with proprietary patented formulations to allow for stable omega-3 compounds and can be used for clear beverage formulations. The company has used its technology to create an omega-3 enhanced beverage with one-year shelf stability, says Jack McCabe, director in business development for Zymes. It also has tested the stability of its technology in adding omega-3 ingredients to enhanced waters, carbonated lemon-lime beverages, sports drinks and more, McCabe says.

A relatively new entry to the omega-3 landscape is krill oil, which is sourced from tiny crustaceans. Krill oil is rich in omega-3, phospholipids and antioxidants. In the United States, krill oil is available as a supplement. In Europe, Israeli company Enzymotec announced its krill oil obtained Novel Food status in May. Enzymotec also recently announced it intends to increase the omega-3 proportion in its krill oil to 19 percent.

Krill oil attracted attention in May, when Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, pulled krill oil supplements from shelves at its natural food stores, citing declines in predator populations in the area where a krill fishery operates. Enzymotec USA’s Chief Executive Officer, Elzaphan Hotam, addressed the issue in a June press release, stating, “Enzymotec supports krill sustainability and an eco-friendly supply chain aimed to maintain the conservation of marine living resources by sourcing its krill biomass only from Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources-member monitored vessels and facilities.”

Euromonitor projects a 24 percent increase in global omega-3 volume consumption by 2014. In addition to developing markets in Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico and China, the U.S. market is anticipated to continue its expansion in the coming years. Experts agree that consumer awareness of omega-3’s benefits and possibilities for formulation also will continue to increase.

“Consumer awareness of and demand for omega-3 ingredients has risen sharply in recent years,” GTC Nutrition’s Munteanu says. “This trend will continue to positively influence the beverage market segment as it provides an on-the-go solution for health conscious consumers, such as moms shopping for healthier alternatives for the family.” BI