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Food Materials Science Research

Research Platforms

Food colloids and interfaces

Food colloids and interfaces

Colloids, such as emulsions and foams, comprise a structural component of many food systems, such as ice cream, cheese and mayonnaise. As such, the properties of these foods (e.g. technical functionality, material properties, sensory and even digestibility) are governed by the stabilization, interactions and structuring of the colloidal state. Our focus on food colloids encompasses a number of discipline areas, including interfacial adsorption and surface assembly; emulsion systems (including double emulsion stabilization, nanoemulsions, and microencapsulates and Pickering stabilized emulsions); foams and dispersions. Our research aims to extend from developing fundamental understanding of colloidal phenomena through to the assembly of designed colloidal structures into food products with specific functionality.

Picture is confocal micrograph of a protein-stabilised oil-in-water emulsion, showing fat droplets (red) surrounded by protein coatings (green).

biopolymers

Biopolymers

The Biopolymers platform focusses on the study and application of naturally occurring and synthesized raw materials that are widely used for their structural and functional role in food products. Research within this platform seeks to explore how the molecular structure (native or modified) of biopolymers such as proteins, polysaccharides and starches, influences their interactions and properties in aqueous and non-aqueous media, as well as in the presence of other food components, and in response to processing conditions such as heat and shear.  Greater understanding of how the hierarchical assembly of biopolymer structures contributes to the material and functional properties (e.g. stability, sensory and digestibility) of foods can enable more effective utilization of raw materials in food product design.

Picture is whey protein nanofibrils under the transmission electron microscope.

Ingredient functionality

Ingredient functionality

Ingredient functionality is the study of how the raw materials that comprise a formulation contribute to the structure of a food product based on their interactions and assembly as a consequence of processing. This platform seeks to understand how particular food ingredient functionalities and interactions lead to the creation of associated food microstructures and product properties. In particular, we aim to develop knowledge as to how the manipulation of ingredient or additive materials can be used to achieve targeted product outcomes, such as cost reduction, quality enhancement, or clean label design. Work in this area has investigated innovative approaches for extending formulation functionality, such as exploration of new raw materials (such as polysaccharide fractions extracted from plant sources), or through manipulation of ingredients through physical, chemical or biochemical modification to create novel functional components.

Picture is scanning electron micrograph of lignin microparticulates prepared through solvent precipitation

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Food structure dynamics

Understanding the assembly and breakdown of food structures in response to dynamic conditions of shear, temperature and environmental conditions is essential to many of the attributes associated with food design and consumption. Whilst the production of food is based on the dynamic structural assembly of ingredients through processing, aspects of food consumption, such as sensory properties and digestibility are governed by the manner in which food materials are broken down in the mouth (oral processing) and gastro-intestinal tract. Within this platform we aim to understand, characterize and ultimately control the dynamic behaviours of food materials during both manufacture and consumption with a view to creating food structures capable of delivering industry or consumer requirements. This approach has most recently been applied in the design of dairy structured foods (through the Fonterra-Primary Growth Partnership) and foods with controlled breakdown properties during digestion (Riddet CoRE).

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