Product structure and function

closeup dark chocolate chunks

The structure of foods plays a vital role in the way foods are perceived and processed in the body. It can also play an important part in foods which have been made healthier, such as reduced fat products. Many foods are structured solids and the microstructure determines their taste and texture.

The design of food processes and microstructures is a major research area at the Centre for Formulation Engineering. We carry out research that provides underpinning support to the food industry and drives innovation forward into new areas demanded by both consumers and policy makers.

Design of food processes and microstructures

A major part of our work is the design of foods which deliver ‘unhealthy’ functionality whilst being significantly healthier than current convenience products. Our efforts are focus on understanding and manipulating the microstructure of foods to engineer products that deliver the desired customer attributes but with a dramatic reduction in the amounts of fat, sugar and salt consumed in the diet.

Microstructure Engineering Research Group

The Microstructure Engineering Research Group at the University of Birmingham is engaged in research across many diverse industrial areas, including food and nutrition, agrochemical and pharmaceutical. The group uses a microstructural engineering approach to give materials functional properties by manipulating their underlying micro and nano scale properties. Discover key projects taking place across the research group.

Environmental friendly ingredients

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, such as fats from sustainable sources rather than leading to destruction of the rain forest. The University of Birmingham is part of a collaborative EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food to tackle research into innovative materials, products and processes and sustainable food supply chain. These collaborative projects include manufacturing technologies such as microwave, emulsification, and additive manufacturing.

Expertise:

Emulsions

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. The 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.

Did you know ice-cream would not exist were it not for emulsifiers? It is both a foam and an emulsion, and its texture results from the ice crystals and unfrozen water it contains. But it’s not just creamy products where emulsifiers are crucial – bread and other baked products, where solid particles are dispersed in an airy foam, are enhanced by emulsifiers.

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.

ePET - edible Pickering Emulsions Technology

Double emulsions offer enormous potential in the development of healthy foods because they impart an "unperceived" fat reduction, but can also carry and deliver nutrients and bioactives without compromising on taste. The ePET project investigates both formulation design rules and processing routes in order to manufacture stable edible Pickering particles, for the development of new, functional, and healthier/safe foods. 

Additive Manufacturing Technology

We are developing additive manufacturing technologies relevant to the production of foods, including processing technologies and the creation of novel food structures.

ENDPro - Efficient Novel Drying Processes

The Innovate UK funded ENDPro project is designed to quickly recognise potential novel efficient drying “technologies” for use in prototype manufacture, to use these at a bench-scale to produce a range of prototypes, evaluate them, and establish whether they can deliver acceptable snack food products. This project will finally deliver the engineering process design rules for the scale-up of the identified novel drying processes that meet these criteria. 

Formulation and Processing for the Development of Novel Microstructures

Our researchers are exploring ingredients and microstructure components from alternative sources. They are also developing edible Pickering particles, particle (Pickering) and mixed-emulsifier (nanoparticles and emulsifier) stabilised emulsions, double emulsions, microstructural enhancement of foam development and stability, and crystallisation phenomena in emulsion microstructures.

Novel Processing Technologies

Our research involves vacuum-assisted microwave drying, cross-flow and rotating membrane emulsification processes, impinging jets processing and microfluidics, low energy food production, and microstructure development through 3D printing.

Encapsulation and Release Technologies

We are developing complex microstructures for the encapsulation and targeted delivery/release of active ingredients (flavours, macronutrients etc.), dual (multiple-active) encapsulation and release microstructures.

Mixed Biopolymers & Water-in-Water Emulsions

We are exploring phase separation phenomena, interactions and material properties in single biopolymer and mixed biopolymer mixtures, and biopolymer and protein fluid gels.

Formulation Engineering for Functionality in the GI Tract

Our research team are processing effects under oral conditions using soft-tribology - acid gelation of hydrocolloids in the stomach for positive effects on appetite and macronutrient delivery (e.g. glucose).

Food Structure and Sensory Perception and Appetite relationships

We are developing food microstructure effects on satiation and satiety, food microstructure effects on sensory properties (textural/mouthfeel and flavour related), relationships between instrumental measures (e.g. tribology), and oral processing.