Crystal growth and water migration in high-protein food matrices

NIZO is looking for project partners to investigate ways to reduce food waste and production costs by controlling unwanted crystallisation in high-protein foods.

Reducing food waste is a pillar of a sustainable food chain. But crystallisation of salts, sugars, amino acids, fats, etc., in foods such as cheese, ice cream, etc. can hamper these efforts. Unwanted crystal formation affects the customer’s perception of the food quality. It may look ‘wrong’: a white bloom on cheese or chocolate, for instance. Or the mouthfeel may be impacted: a ‘sandy’ non-dairy creamer or ‘dried out’ protein bar.

In either case, the consumer may think the product is spoiled, and discard it: even though it may be perfectly safe.

Crystallisation can also cause fouling in production equipment, which then needs to be cleaned. Your costs and resource consumption go up: in energy, water, cleaning products, etc. This impacts the sustainability of your production processes.

A more sustainable food chain  

Crystallisation is a complex process, and has been the subject of important studies by dedicated academic groups. These have generally focussed on a single ingredient. Now, a broader, practical approach is needed.

NIZO is setting up a public-private consortium with knowledge institutes and industrial partners for the project “Crystal growth and water migration in high protein food matrices”. This project aims to develop methods and insights to control crystallisation of small molecular weight food ingredients in complex, protein-rich matrices, to enhance the sustainability of food production.

A better understanding and control of crystallisation in complex, dense matrices will help you to improve the customer’s appreciation of your food products, reducing food waste. At the same time, your production chain suffers less scaling and fouling. Thus, the entire production and consumption chain becomes more sustainable.

Project description

  • The project will develop a set of dense, protein-rich model systems for selected low molar mass crystallising ingredients (for example calcium lactate/citrate, tyrosine, sucrose, lactose or ice), which will allow for systematic variation of protein composition and other relevant conditions.
  • Methods for observing the crystals will be selected and developed when necessary. The methods will use common lab equipment, but more advanced X-ray or non-standard optical techniques may also be used.
  • Variation of the protein and hydrocolloid composition of the model matrices, water content, temperature and other possible parameters will enable both a set of tools to control crystal growth, and mechanistic insight.
  • The findings from the model systems will be translated and validated in food products, during the course of the project. This will allow the results obtained to be translated into commercial products and applied in practice.

Invitation to cooperate

Are you interested in playing a role in reducing food waste and production costs? Do you want to provide your input on the scope of the project and what products should be included? There are still spaces available in the consortium for industrial partners. You can fill in this form to apply to become a partner, or contact Nel Zoon for more information.

The preproposal has already received positive feedback from subsidy provider TKI. The final project proposal will be submitted in 2020, and the project will begin in 2021.

Any questions?

Nel Zoon is happy to answer all your questions.

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