The healthy properties of red wine have been linked by researchers to its antioxidants. They destroy free-radicals, which are known to cause chemical damage to cells, are thus defends the body from certain diseases. Evidence for this are the extremely low rates of cardiovascular disease in wine-drinking countries. A good example of this is the French, who continue to live long and healthy lives, despite a diet of high saturated fat. This observation is known as the 'French paradox' and has been attributed to their regular intake of wine.
Wine, especially red wine, contains polyphenol antioxidants or tannins (often 2-3 grams per litre). However most of the antioxidants in the grapes are lost in the wine-making process. After the winemaker puts the collected grapes into a press, grape skin and seeds are left behind. The remaining skin and seeds, or pomace, which contain most of the antioxidants, are then thrown away.
There are many research projects with the aim of using the pomace in cosmetic products, since the antioxidants are very good for the skin. It is known through research that polyphenols also help prevent various cancers, counteract inflammatory conditions and improve the immune system. The European project named PARADOX, headquartered in Austria, has the aim of extracting polyphenols from pomace to be used as an additive in non-alcoholic food products. Extracting and preserving polyphenols has the added advantage of being able to avoid the addictive ethanol, which can be damaging for the liver, contained in wine.
In the search for the most effective method of extracting polyphenols, with minimal environmental impact, the pomace from various climates, grapes and wine-production methods were considered. Involvement of sixteen institutions in the EU has been necessary in the project – these have included winegrowers, university laboratories and large-scale food and drink manufacturers.
Economically the aim of the project cannot be faulted. The pomace is originally waste and of practically no monetary value. The results of PARADOX sees this waste help create a highly valuable product.
The polyphenols can be extracted using traditional methods with alcohol and water. While such a method may suffice in the laboratories, another method will have to be considered for large-scale industrial production.
However, it is not simply a matter of extraction. Since the anti-oxidising abilities of the extracted polyphenols need to be preserved, the small granules of polyphenol powder (the result of the extraction process) are not allowed to come into contact with oxygen or light. To solve this problem, the scientists “cocoon” the particles in a protective polymer capsule. The process is called micro-encapsulation. Adding oil and polymers to the polyphenol powder creates myriad microscopic polymer balloons that act as a capsule around the polyphenol antioxidants. The acidic pH levels in the stomach dissolves the polymer shell, allowing the antioxidants to enter the bloodstream. This natural and stable food additive has been named “PARADOX”.
The next development will be the production of various polyphenol formulae for different kinds of foods and drinks. Further research will be required to find the correct dosages and evaluate the medical effects of the additives. A prototype of the PARADOX additive is already available to the research and development department of the food industry for testing.