Food quality and safety: lipids, vitamins and other bioactive compounds

Food components and reactions affecting nutritional quality and safety of foods are investigated. Questions to be studied deal both with raw materials, processes and final food products. We investigate bioactive compounds of the dietary fibre complex focusing especially on vitamins and phytosterols. We also study natural enhancement of vitamins in foods and properties of lipids in plant-based materials and microalgae. Among reactions affecting nutritional quality and safety of foods we mainly study oxidation reactions of lipids, reactions leading to vitamin losses and reactions to eliminate vicine and convicine in faba bean.

Vitamins. Research on vitamins has been one of our major expertise from the beginning of 1980s. We have studied both lipid- and water-soluble vitamins: occurrence in foods, chemical and nutritional properties, importance in foods and diets and factors influencing the levels. In addition, development of analytical methods for different vitamers as well as validation and harmonization of the methods through international collaboration are among our priorities. Recent collaboration projects have focused on enhancing vitamin contents in cereal-based foods by plant breeding, fractionation of the materials and bioprocessing. Currently the research focus lies on investigating microbial in situ synthesis of folate, vitamin B12 and other B vitamins in cereal and legume matrices as a mean to improve nutritional quality of foods and to develop new food applications.

Recent major projects:

  • Natural fortification of foods: microbial in situ synthesis of vitamin B12 and folate in cereal matrix (2012–2016; the Academy of Finland)
  • Enhancement of folate in gluten free cereal-based products (post doc project/Susanna Kariluoto; 2011–2014; the Academy of Finland)
  • Contribution of cereal-based fermented foods to folate intake in European and African countries FolEA (2014-2016; the Academy of Finland and Finnish Cultural Foundation. Coordinated by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)/France and collaboration with three African partners. Leading scientist at UH: Susanna Kariluoto)

Lipids and their reactions. We study different lipid classes and lipid profiles in food matrices as well as chemical and enzymatic reactions of lipids. Phytosterols and their conjugates have been studied as natural food components belonging to the dietary fibre complex. On the other hand, questions related to sterol enrichment have also been on our focus. Research on oxidation susceptibility and mechanisms as well as factors affecting oxidation reactions is part of safety assessment of sterol enrichment. In these studies we have utilized controlled models and developed methods for structural and quantitative analysis. Controlling lipid oxidation is essential while developing new food technologies and compositions. We use diverse methods to study proceeding of oxidation from primary products to monomeric oxides, volatiles and polymerization products. We also study effects of relative humidity and food structure on the release of flavor compounds. Thus, valuable information on factors influencing oxidation and consequences of oxidation reactions is obtained. Controlling enzymatic reactions leading to off-flavors in cereal and legume matrices is also among our interests. A new projects focuses on utilization of valuable lipids, such as long-chain omega-3-fatty acids and pigments, from microalgae.

Recent major projects:

  • Tools for healthy foods with appealing texture and high stability (Hybridi) (collaboration project with VTT; 2011–2014; Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation).
  • Health promoting food and feed from micro-algal omega-3 fatty acids, pigments and bioactive peptides produced on food industry side streams (Algomeg) (collaboration with the UH/Department of Environmental Sciences, VTT and Indian partners; 2014-2016; Tekes-DBT funding for Indo-Finnish collaboration. Leading scientist at UH: professor Martin Romantschuk)

Antinutrients in legumes. Certain antinutrients, e.g., oligosaccharides and secondary plant metabolites, may limit use of legumes as protein sources in food purposes. We study elimination of antinutrients focusing on vicine and convisine in faba bean. The research is part of collaboration studies to enhance wider utilization of domestic plant-based protein sources.

Recent major project:

  • Fababean – legume-based new foods and food ingredients (2012–2014; Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; coordinator professor Hannu Salovaara at UH).

Other recent major collaboration projects. We participate in the following projects:

  • BACCHUS beneficial effects of dietary bioactive peptides and polyphenols on cardiovascular health in humans (2012-2016; European Commission; Leading scientist at UH: professor Marina Heinonen).
  • Chemical oxidation of mixed linked beta-glucans; oxidation pathways, oxidation products
    and product functionality (2012–2016; the Academy of Finland; Leading scientist at UH: Dr Tuula Sontag-Strohm).
  • EuroFIR NEXUS (2011–2013; European Commission; Leading scientist at UH professor Vieno Piironen).


Principal investigator: professor Vieno Piironen

Docent Anna-Maija Lampi (co-chair of the group)
Docent Velimatti Ollilainen
Docent Susanna Kariluoto
PhD Minnamari Edelmann
PhD Mari Lehtonen
Visiting researcher Elsa M. Gonçalves (Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agraria e Veterinária (INIAV), Portugal)

PhD students:
Annelie Damerau: Oxidative stability of foods with a dispersed lipid phase
Bhawani Chamlagain: Natural enhancement of vitamin contents in foods
Marjo Pulkkinen: Reactivity and elimination of vicine and convicine in faba bean
Zhen Yang: Oxidative Stability of Lipids in Plant-derived Foods: Flavor Deterioration by Enzymatic and Chemical Reactions

Recent PhD theses
Mari Lehtonen: Oxidation of steryl esters.
Tanja Nurmi: Variation of phytosterols and steryl ferulates in wheat grains and fractions.
Minnamari Edelmann: Occurrence and natural enhancement of folate in oats and barley

Master students (2013–2014):  

  • Emmi Hovilehto (effects of riboflavin and niacin on vitamin B12 synthesis by Propionibacteria),
  • Jingwei Liu (lipids in faba beans and other pulses),
  • Xiaoxue Qin (volatile compounds in extruded rye bran),
  • Flora Agalga-Noamesi (polymerization of phytosterols),
  • Tessa Sugito (in situ synthesis of vitamin B12),
  • Heidi Vicente (lipid oxidation in dried emulsions),
  • Anu Karinoja (proteases and their inhibitors in faba bean),
  • Jia Li (lipid hydrolysis in oats),
  • Yingying Yang (folate polyglutamates),
  • Anna-Maaria Kokkonen (oxidation of phytosterols),
  • Dai Xi (glucosinolates in rapeseed leaves),
  • Maheswor Gautam (vicine and convicine in faba bean),
  • Leenamaria Järvinen (off-flavor in faba bean products),
  • Terhi Suvilehto (soluble carbohydrates in legumes),
  • Saija Rautio (available niacin in cereal matrices),
  • Kaisa Hiippala (effect of carbon sources on vitamin B12 production in Propionibacterium freudenreichii),
  • Xiao Zhou (stability of divicine hydrolysed from vicine),
  • Yuetuan Zhang (folate enhancement in pseudocereals),
  • Pekka Anttila (extraction and characterization of lipids in microalgae),
  • Jenni Peltonen (folate in vegetables, berries, and mushrooms),
  • Marco Santin (stability of vitamin B12 compounds).