Food microtechnology

Food micro-technology, membranes and modelling

Within the Food Micro Technology group, we investigate things on the micrometre (and also nanometre) scale. Based on the insights gained, we develop new technologies for the production of food products and food ingredients.

You may ask yourselves why the micrometre-scale is so relevant. Well, in food, the micrometre scale is a decisive scale in structure formation (e.g. emulsions, foams, particles, or capsules), and ultimately determines the functional properties of a food product. This also holds for separation (filtration, and other innovative separation methods based on an electric switch), in which the micro/nanometre scale determines how well raw materials can be separated into functional fractions. We also use micro- and nanoparticles to design tailor-made packaging materials and foods that impact the environment less.

Food micro-technology

Within the Food Micro Technology group, student projects mostly start with experimental observations done in our dedicated microtechnology lab, or with small-scale set-ups that are tailor-made for that purpose, and in which we can emulate conditions that are relevant for large scale processing and ideally also visualise them. In the actual production lines this would not be possible at sufficient level of detail simply because stainless steel is not transparent as would be the food products into which light can only intrude very limitedly. Furthermore, the processes that occur are very fast. In order to still be in a position to understand what is going on, we combine experimental observations at small scale, with modelling and image analysis, and reach thorough understanding of the mechanisms that play a role during e.g. structure formation of emulsions and capsules, and also investigate loss of structure e.g. due to changes in the interface composition under digestive conditions. Similarly, we approach the field of separation in which we for example study naturally occurring migration behaviour including clogging of pores, and use it to improve filtration processes (in combination with the membrane processes for food group in Twente), sometimes using an external driving force which has led to the identification of innovative separation methods.

Although we start our investigations with simplified systems on small scale, we always try to understand full complexity within food products. We both identify new raw materials (e.g., natural Pickering particles), and develop new sustainable technology. We aim to improve products, and design processes that are ultimately more sustainable and can be carried out at large scale. A special field of interest is the design of interfaces in emulsions, foams and capsules. We do that e.g., using novel protein sources or particles, and structure the interfaces in such a way that we either obtain stable products both from a physical and chemical point of view, or make the interface unstable to create a controlled release, e.g., under digestive conditions. Part of this work may be carried out at INRAE, Nantes, France through a long-standing collaboration with associate prof. dr. Claire Berton-Carabin.

Besides, we are interested in societal aspects that play a role when introducing new technologies. We have a joint project that focusses on novel foods, of which the perception is not immediately clear.