Evolution of the nanotech revolution

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cocoa butter, Nanotechnology

Since nanotechnology was first used to develop the 'seed
pre-crystallisation' technique in chocolate, many companies have
been investing in the new technology to transform processing
methods and product formulation.

Nanotechnology refers to the technique of controlling and manipulating matter at near atomic scales to create new processes, materials and devices. Given consumer scepticism, companies and regulators will have to be wary of their concerns in pursuing the technology. Erich Windhab, a scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's food processing laboratory, emphasises the need for caution in proceeding with introducing new products. Windhab, is famous in Switzerland for developing a process during the late 1990s to prevent the greying of chocolate over time due to the recrystalisation of the cocoa butter. By analysing the crystalline structure and the different stress factors cocoabutter undergoes during processing, he was able to develop a way to get a stable, more dense crystalline structure in filled chocolate. The advance, presented in 2002, is called 'seed pre-crystallisation'. It uses micros and nano techniques to understand and control the process of crystallisation. The process takes pure cocoa butter through a process of shearing and cooling, producing smaller and more stable crystals. The crystals are then injected into chocolate mass. In layman's terms the chocolate remained shiner over a longer period of shelf life. The process time of the crystallisation procedure was also reduced to 20 seconds from 30 minutes. "There was a better colour to the filled chocolate,"​ he said. "There was less recrystallisation."​ Buhler AG presented its machine using the process, the SeedMaster, at Interpack 2005. Now scientists are using similar techniques to study the phases meso- and nano scale structures undergo during processing. Such use of nano-science by Winhab and others holds out the promise of better quality and safer foods, with specific health benefits. Areas ripe for further exploration in the field include the development of functional ingredients such as drugs, vitamins, antimicrobials, antioxidants, flavorings, colourants, and preservatives. The development of these materials are being spearheaded by the big players in the food industry who are looking to use nanotechnology to engineer, process and package food. Among the biggest companies with research and development agendas are Altria, Nestle, Kraft, Heinz and Unilever, as well as smaller nanotech start-ups.

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