Many foods are structured solids, whose microstructure determines their taste and texture. For these products it is critical that manufacture is designed to deliver product attributes. Thus the process design is critical and challenging as companies look for more energy efficiency, new product attributes and the use of more natural and environmentally friendly ingredients (e.g. fats from sustainable sources rather than leading to destruction of the rain forest).
A major component of many fabricated foods is an emulsion phase. A number of UK academic groups are active in emulsions; these are all targeted towards the chemistry and physical chemistry. University of Birmingham is unique as it has a large and very active research group investigating the process engineering aspects of emulsions, how they are formed, how materials get to interfaces and how the emulsions breakdown and release bio-actives when consumed.
We have a number of projects in this area, involving:
- Microstructure engineering of hydrocolloids and emulsion based systems to design products of specific functionality. EPSRC, BBSRC and Industry funding of ~£ 1million.
- Structural characterisation by methods such as X-Ray Micro-Computed Tomography, for frozen and baked structures and foams.
- Chocolate processing; we have built models of fat crystallisation and Easter egg design and are currently investigating the use of emulsions to re-engineer chocolate without impacting on consumer perception.
- Experimental and modelling work on generation of flavour, including chocolate crumb, roasted grains and snacks.
X-Ray MicroCT image of a typical snack product. Salt crystals are shown in red colour.