Microalgae as healthy texturizers in processed foods

February 14, 2019

Microalgae are a promising ingredient to create healthy food products, because they are rich in numerous health-beneficial components. Besides, microalgae can also be used to replace synthetic thickening agents from food products, since some microalgae display a food texturizing capacity.

Microalgae are tiny cells with a size of some micrometers. To use them as food texturizers, strong networks should be created by stimulating interactions. Food processing operations like thermal processing and high pressure homogenization can be used for this. This research shows that the sequence of these processing steps plays an important role in the creation of the networks.

High pressure homogenization is used to break the cells of the microalgae. In this way, the intracellular compounds of different cells are released and are free to interact with each other to form networks. If this step is followed by a thermal treatment, the networks become stronger due to heat-induced reactions of proteins and/or carbohydrates. Breaking the cells might also be beneficial for nutrient absorption in our body.

For some microalgae, breaking the cells is not needed to obtain strong networks. This is the case for microalgae whose cells are covered by exopolysaccharides. These cells can create a network by interacting with each other, but the network strength can be further improved by a thermal process. This work shows that specific processing strategies can be determined for different microalgae to enable their optimal use as a food texturizer.

Researchers at KU Leuven are currently exploring the potential of microalgae as novel healthy and/or structuring ingredients in different food products such as vegetable soups, sauces and processed meat.

If you would like more information or would like to discuss this research further please contact Tom Bernaerts.

Each year EFFoST and Cargill present the student of the year award to six students and also give them the opportunity to showcase their research. In this article, Tom Bernaerts who won the 2nd prize for the PhD student of the year discusses his research. Currently, Tom is a PhD student at Laboratory of Food Technology (KU Leuven, Belgium) under the guidance of Professor Ann Van Loey. Tom is in the final stage of his PhD and will be linked to the same research group as a postdoctoral researcher.

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