The global food system today has many current and future challenges to face. These include a growing global population, the rise of issues such as malnutrition and obesity, and environmental matters such as loss of biodiversity and pollution. Consumers are aware of these issues and are demanding food that is safe, affordable, good and healthy. In order to balance the needs of consumers and, at the same time, to face the present global challenges, the actors of the food system are changing their approach, starting to look at food with different eyes, giving importance to the sensory properties as much as to the technological and nutritional qualities of food, promoting a sustainable production. To support this, it is necessary to produce the so-called functional food, which has the ability to respond to a specific function the product was developed for.
Understanding the fundamental relationships between the structure and function of each single ingredient in a product is key to the design of new foods. For a long time the focus has been on the composition of food, but another key element is its structure. Food structure design is a reasoned approach that mainly considers the structure of the food, controlling its texture, shape, smell and taste.
Food structure design: the new strategy for food design
According to the article “Designing foods: from understanding structure to structure design” Food structure design is an approach that involves understanding how the interactions between ingredients are the key factors that determine the structure of food. These interactions influence both the palatability and acceptability of the food, and the delivery and availability of macro- and micronutrients in the digestive tract.
The process of creating new food through Food structure design starts from the identification of the need to be satisfied with the product to be developed. This need can range from the need to create a “free-from” product, to a product with a particular consistency, or that is easily digestible. Once the need has been identified, we start designing the food in order to reach the goal set, analyzing how the chemical-physical interactions of the structural elements (proteins, water, lipids and carbohydrates) influence the structure of the food. By structure we mean the form that the food acquires as a result of the interactions that compose it, creating emulsions, foams, micelles and gels. Then there is the study of the feasibility of the idea, and the understanding of the interactions between the molecules of the ingredients, as well as the factors that influence the structure of the food, such as temperature, time, and pressure. Once the feasibility of the proposed structure is validated, it is formulated according to the created recipe.
The importance of food design
In a world where food safety and sustainability is becoming increasingly important, designing foods specifically for the required need may be a key approach. There are many reasons to design new structures into foods that reformulate or create new products for people with specific nutritional needs such as the need to reduce sugar, fat, salt or gluten, or willing to supplement their diet with selected macro- and micronutrients. In addition, developing new structures can help the creation of new food products to support people with specific ethical beliefs and personal motivations who adopt a diet free of a certain food, such as animal origin products or ingredients. In the design of a plant-based product, for example, it is essential to understand how the plant protein used will interact on the structure of the food, for example creating gels or stabilizing emulsions or foaming. Choosing the plant matrix to be used for formulating a new food is crucial, and Protilla Finder can help you discover different possibilities and combinations.