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Improving the quality of zero- and low-fat foods.

The market for zero- or low-fat food products is still significant. New ingredients and technical know-how are needed to manufacture these types of products and to give them high sensory quality. Such foods include margarines and spreads, salad dressings, and dairy and bakery products.

Fat mimetics or fat substitutes are substances--often biopolymers--used to compensate for a lower fat content and provide oily texture and good organoleptic properties. Some biopolymers that have worked in this application include the celluloses, starches, alginates, caseinates, gelatines and dextrans, which often exhibit phase separation in foods. Our knowledge of how they function and the optimal processing conditions required is limited, particularly on the systematic and theoretical level.

Often, combinations of several biopolymers are needed to ensure good organoleptic quality in a product. In these cases, it is even more difficult to understand or to optimize the interplay between them and food matrix components to create the best products. Furthermore, the processing conditions, in particular heating and shearing, are important because they influence the product microstructure and its final texture.

The objective of European researchers was to establish and validate the scientific principles for creating desirable product microstructures, based on the knowledge gained from processing biopolymer mixtures. A critical issue addressed during their project involved examining research approaches in nonfood areas, such as industrial polymers, composite materials and emulsions, and attempting to transfer that technology to their research effort.

Scientists investigated aqueous dispersions of mixtures of alginate, caseinate, gelatine and dextran. They built and tested mathematical models, and they studied the development of microstructure--phase separation and stabilization, particle break-up, coalescence and aggregation. Researchers analyzed pilot plants studies using computational fluid dynamics. The investigators studied the influence of processing parameters. Video-based and ultrasound techniques were developed to measure microstructural changes. Research is continuing.

Further information. Wim Agterof, Unilever Research, PO Box 114, 3130 AC Vlaardingen, The Netherlands; phone: +31 10-460.52.60; fax: +31 10-460.5025; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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