Scientists to probe food's nano-structure to optimise ingredients

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Nutrition Food science

Scientists in Australia are "dragging food science into the 21st
century" by using neutrons to probe the molecular structure of food
and ingredients, and changes that occur during processing.

"This research will provide scientists with the ability to design new foods with improved taste, texture and health-improving qualities,"​ said Dr. Ian Smith, executive director of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

"We will be conducting cutting edge research to understand the structure of ingredients that go into food and aspects of food safety."

Scientists from ANSTO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the University of Queensland will use neutrons to investigate and identify the location of different atomic components in food.

This fundamental research is aimed at addressing the need to link food nanostructure and the biochemical and physical properties.

Combining the strengths of CSIRO and ANSTO will enable the scientists to unlock the secrets of complex food structures, how the structures are affected by processing and subsequently how these changes affect nutrition and long-term health, said Dr. Smith.

"This is the first time that neutron scatterers, food scientists and nutritionists have worked together to solve problems of major concern to food safety, food quality and public health. This obviously has major implications,"​ Dr Elliot Gilbert, head of the Food Sciences Project at ANSTO told​.

"Imagine being able to look inside an egg while it is being boiled. We can do that. We can watch food structure change as it is being processed.

"By designing novel food processing methods, food will not have to be heated to such high temperatures that result in the loss of texture, taste and nutritional value,"​ said Gilbert.

And the wealth of information that neutron scattering can provide is only now started to be appreciated by the food science community, said Gilbert.

Dr. Alastair Robertson, chief executive for agribusiness at CSIRO, said that the contribution of ANSTO will be to provide a physical understanding of the changes that occur during processing of the food, while CSIRO will complement this by bringing its food and nutrition expertise.

"The processes involved in protecting high value-added components or delivering natural protective food components to specific areas of the digestive tract, will also be advanced by optimising the structure of the encapsulating materials,"​ said Dr. Robertson.

While enhancing flavours, texture, and delivery of bioactive functional ingredients of the food were key goals, Dr. Gilbert said that the project has the ultimate potential to save many lives not only in Australia but globally.

"The research enables us to design healthy foods to combat colorectal cancer and type II diabetes and to minimise food wastage with novel food processing technology,"​ Dr. Gilbert told

Gilbert said that work looking into designing healthier food that can provide targeted delivery of nutrients to the colon had already begun.

"We are dragging food science into the 21st century and can only imagine the possibilities for the future,"​ he said.

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