Astaxanthin, a natural pigment carotenoid, is well known for its potential benefits to human health. However, its applications in the food industry are limited, due to its poor water-solubility and chemical instability. Six different emulsifiers were used to prepare astaxanthin-loaded emulsions, including whey protein isolate (WPI), polymerized whey protein (PWP), WPI-lecithin, PWP-lecithin, lecithin, and Tween20. The droplet size, zeta potential, storage stability, cytotoxicity, and astaxanthin uptake by Caco-2 cells were all investigated. The results showed that the droplet size of the emulsions ranged from 194 to 287 nm, depending on the type of emulsifier used. The entrapment efficiency of astaxanthin was as high as 90%. The astaxanthin-loaded emulsions showed good physicochemical stability during storage at 4 °C. The emulsifier type had a significant impact on the degradation rate of astaxanthin (p < 0.05). Cellular uptake of astaxanthin encapsulated into the emulsions was significantly higher than free astaxanthin (p < 0.05). Emulsion stabilized with WPI had the highest cellular uptake of astaxanthin (10.0 ± 0.2%), followed, in order, by that with PWP (8.49 ± 0.1%), WPI-lecithin (5.97 ± 0.1%), PWP-lecithin (5.05 ± 0.1%), lecithin (3.37 ± 0.2%), and Tween 20 (2.1 ± 0.1%). Results indicate that the whey protein-based emulsion has a high potential for improving the cellular uptake of astaxanthin.
Keywords: astaxanthin; bioavailability; emulsifier; stability; whey protein isolate.