University of Birmingham scientists have discovered a new method to replace fat in food products.

A team at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Formulation Engineering is developing a microstructure – an air filled emulsion coated in protein - that resembles the physical properties of a fat globule.  The protein is hydrophobin which comes from mushrooms.  This new structure could replace fat in foods such as salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces and even spreads and margarines.

The technique means that up to 50% of the fat would be removed from a product and replaced with the new structure, which is made in such a way that it gives the product the correct texture.  The remaining fat carries the fatty flavours and aroma.  This would mean that the consumer would be able to enjoy a healthier food product, but still experience the same fatty taste and texture.

The hydrophobins used for the new structures are fascinating molecules, but they have the added advantage, especially for use in food, of being totally natural and commonly found in life.  Suitable proteins can be easily and safely extracted from inside the common white cap mushrooms that are already frequently eaten.

Professor Ian Norton from the University of Birmingham says, ‘Food manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce the amount of fat in their products.  We have found that we can use existing materials to change the properties of some food stuffs in a way that is acceptable to the consumer.’

Dr Phil Cox, co-investigator, says ‘It is hoped that, by making indulgent foods more healthy, the consumer will be able to continue to enjoy those foods that are currently seen as bad for you, without worrying about the fat content’.

The team is also working with colleagues at Bangor University on the psychological issues surrounding eating and are particularly interested in healthy indulgence  how to make products which are healthy but still nice to eat, or even indulgent, and then how  to get the consumers to accept the concept  Professor Norton continues, ‘New technologies and changing the make-up of the foods we eat are ways of tackling the obesity problem, but public attitudes towards food consumption must be addressed if we are to stop this epidemic in its tracks.’

The Centre for Formulation Engineering at the University of Birmingham, the UK’s foremost research centre for the design and construction of microstructured  food products, links researchers in different product areas. Professor Peter Fryer, Head of the Centre says, ‘The engineering principles underlying manufacture are the same in industries as different as fine chemicals, food industries and fuel cells’ . Having developed an understanding of the underlying science the group is now working on alternatives to hydrophobins in order to give food manufacturers a range of alternative natural ingredients that can be used in different product formats and manufacturing processes.


Notes to Editors

Original Thinking at Birmingham

From 1900 to present day, the University of Birmingham has enhanced the well-being of our country - and beyond - through its original thinking.

Birmingham is a centre of research excellence. Its research has been impacting on people's lives for more than a century and it continues to lead the way in breakthroughs and innovations. These include:

1937 creating vitamin C tablets  2008 developing cancer vaccines

1912 first UK course in oil mining  2008 cleaner fuels

1960 Developing pacemakers  2008 tackling global obesity

The University is a truly vibrant, global community and an internationally-renowned institution. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than four thousand international students from nearly 150 different countries.

The University plays an integral role in the economic, social and cultural growth of local and regional communities; working closely with businesses and organisations, employing approximately 6,000 staff and providing 10,000 graduates annually.  The University contributes £662 million to the City of Birmingham and £779 million to the West Midlands region, with an annual income of more than £388.6 million. In 2005, new graduates accounted for almost 60% of the new workers in the City with a degree or higher level qualification. 44 % of our graduates take up their first employment in the Region.

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164, email: