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Unilever Research and Development - Articles and news items

The total product experience and the position of the sensory and consumer sciences: More than meets the tongue

Issue 1 2012  •  6 March 2012  •  Garmt Dijksterhuis, Sensation, Perception & Behaviour, Unilever R&D Vlaardingen

Traditionally, much food research focuses on the physical and chemical product characteristics, using the so called ‘hard-sciences’. The consumer science side of the product, its use, its perception and its choice rely on the psychological sciences. In the ‘harder’ sciences, a number of recent insights appear which we introduce in this article using the philosophy of the Total Product Experience.

This TPE approach is built on the following four principles:
1. Multisensory perception: products are perceived by humans using all their sensory systems, i.e. more than the proverbial five sense systems, and there are many ways the systems interact
2. Top-down effects: ideas, expectations, information, emotions, in addition to direct sensory perception affect the perception, and liking, of products
3. Consumer-product interactions: the inter – action of consumers with a food product ranges much wider than just oral ingestion
4. Unconscious influences: there is much information about food products and their sensory perception than is consciously and volitionally available to a consumer

Using LC-MS to study the fate of food ingredients in the human body

Issue 2 2010  •  12 May 2010  •  Christian H. Grün & Hans-Gerd Janssen, Unilever Research and Development, Advanced Measurement & Data Modelling

The human body is designed for effectively extracting nutrients from the food we eat. The nutrients provide the body with energy, but in addition, they also provide the building blocks for cell growth. More recently, it has also been realised that specific food ingredients can be associated with a direct stimulating effect on our health. Examples are the multiple unsaturated fatty acids and plant sterols which actively reduce blood cholesterol levels. Others are flavonoids; natural antioxidants found at large quantities in tea, red wine, cocoa, fruits and vegetables. For example, a diet rich in flavonoids is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In particular, consumption of tea, grape (juice), and red wine has been shown to improve markers of vascular function.

Salt reduction and the consumer perspective

Issue 2 2010  •  12 May 2010  •  Johanneke Busch, Gerda Feunekes, Beatrijs Hauer and Wilma den Hoed, Unilever R&D Vlaardingen

In recent years, scientific studies have shown that salt intake can cause high blood pressure and associated heart diseases. Conversely, there is clear evidence that significant reductions of salt intake lead to large reductions in blood pressure, heart diseases and strokes1. Other important risk factors for these cardiovascular diseases are body weight, exercise, alcohol intake, smoking and high cholesterol. However, lowering salt intake has become a high priority issue of the WHO (World Health Organisation), with a recommended daily intake of five grams of salt (NaCl) per day (two grams of sodium (Na+))2, whereas current typical daily intakes are 8-12 grams of salt.

Refrigeration and Unilever

Issue 1 2010, Past issues  •  22 February 2010  •  Rene van Gerwen, Global Lead Engineer Refrigeration & HVAC, Engineering Excellence Team (EET), Unilever Global Supply Chain and Jan Krieg, Expertise Team Leader Systems & Process Engineering, Unilever R&D

Unilever is one of the world’s largest FMCG companies, branding, selling and producing food, personal care, cleaning and washing products. The company has a global turnover of more than 40 billion Euros per year (divided equally between the three major regions: Western Europe, the Americas and Africa/Asia/Central-Eastern Europe). Unilever sells products in 150 countries and has more than 400 production facilities in 100 countries.

Detecting bacterial spores in soup manufacturing

Issue 3 2009  •  10 September 2009  •  A.C.M van Zuijlen & S.J.C.M Oomes, Unilever R&D; P. Vos, Check-Points B.V. and S. Brul, University of Amsterdam

Spores from mesophilic aerobic sporeforming bacteria (Bacillus) are sometimes able to survive the thermal process of commercial sterile products and sporadically cause spoilage or food poisoning. Because of an increasing demand for more fresh products, ideally the processing temperatures should be tailored to inactivate the actual spore load rather than applying worst case scenarios. In doing that, unnecessary loss of product quality can be prevented without running the risk that the product will spoil or cause safety issues.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging for cereal products

Issue 2 2005, Past issues  •  3 May 2005  •  John van Duynhoven and Gerard van Dalen, Foods Research Centre, Unilever R&D, Vlaardingen (NL), Ales Mohoric and Henk van As, Wageningen University and Research Center (NL), Pedro Ramos Cabrer, Utrecht University (NL) and Klaas Nicolay, Utrecht University (NL) and current affiliation Eindhoven University of Technology

How does the microstructure of a food product behave during processing? And what events take place during the shelf life of food products? New developments in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) enable cereal food technologists to address such questions within the context of product innovation.

In the food industry, pressure to bring new products faster to the market has increased and in the meantime the systems under investigation are becoming ever more complex. An important segment of food innovations comprises cereal products such as snacks and (pre-processed) staple foods. Food technologists well appreciate the importance of understanding structure-property relations in developing these novel food products. Assessment of food micro- and macrostructures by conventional techniques, however, mostly involves invasive and destructive procedures. This precludes the observation of dynamic events in relation to food structures during processing and storage. Hence, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has gained considerable interest, since this tomographic technique can map structures in a non-invasive and dynamic manner. The potential of MRI is currently exploited to its full extent within medicine, where it has become one of the most powerful diagnostic tools – an accomplishment for which a Nobel Prize was recently awarded (Sir Peter Mansfield, Paul C. Lauterbur, 2003). In its most widely used form, MRI detects water in soft tissues and image contrast can be obtained by exploiting differences in water density and/or mobility. In the last decade, MRI has also found applications in food science. It has become clear, however, that ‘conventional’ MRI techniques are not always adequate for assessment of cereal products, especially those in the low-moisture regime. Under low moisture conditions, cereal products typically have extended shelf life stability and/or favourable sensory properties such as crispness. In order to address the measurement challenges for such systems, Unilever and the Universities of Wageningen, Utrecht and Delft embarked on a project to develop and implement novel MRI methodology. Here we will present several examples of the application of novel MRI methodology for visualisation of moisture migration in cereal systems. It will be demonstrated that MRI can be used to monitor ingress of water during cooking of processed rice kernels in real time mode. We will also show how MRI can be deployed to assess migration of moisture in multi-component snacks, where differences in water activities exist.

The evolution of ice cream technology

Issue 2 2005, Past issues  •  3 May 2005  •  Sabina Burmester, Andrew Russell and Deryck Cebula, Ice Cream Global Technology Centre, Unilever R&D Colworth, U.K.

The process used for commercial ice cream manufacture has changed little in the past 75 years – since the first continuous scraped surface freezer was introduced in the 1930s. In recent years, however, several key technological developments have taken place in the way ice cream is manufactured and these are finding increasing industrial use.

These advances have been largely driven by ‘consumer’ factors such as the desire for healthy products (low fat, low calorie or additive-free), which retain the excellent eating quality associated with ice cream, as well as the continuous need for product innovation to facilitate new interest and differentiation in the market place. In this article, the traditional method of ice cream manufacture is outlined and some of the most significant of the recent process innovations are described.

Food imaging

Issue 1 2005, Past issues  •  31 January 2005  •  Paul D A Pudney, Measurement Science, Unilever R&D Colworth Laboratory

In trying to understand the functionality of food materials, the microstructure has been universally recognised as important – hence the wide use of various forms of microscopy in food science.

Conventional light microscopy is well developed and widely used in characterising food structures (J.G.Vaughan 1979). The next level of information required is ingredient location within the observed optical structure. Some ingredient location can be obtained by using confocal laser scanning microscopy with component specific dyes. Although this is an extremely useful method, it is not universally applicable to all ingredients and, in many cases, we would like to go beyond this. Thus, a method is required that is sensitive to all the different ingredients, i.e. molecular components present in foods, and also, ideally, gives concentration information. This must be carried out in-situ and on the micron scale – a great challenge.

Keeping check of factory hygiene

Issue 1 2005, Past issues  •  31 January 2005  •  Dr. A.P.M. Hasting, Hygienic Processing Project Manager, Unilever Research Colworth

Process hygiene is an ongoing issue of considerable importance for the food industry, as the increasing cost pressures placed on manufacturers by the major retailers have to be met, without compromising the safety and shelf life of the product.

Fouling and cleaning are widely accepted to be the cause of significant practical problems within the food industry in terms of their potential impact on process hygiene and hence product quality, as well as the operational performance of food processing plants. Fouling is the unwanted accumulation or deposition of material on equipment surfaces or stagnant areas of equipment. It is often poorly understood and monitored and consequently difficult to predict when and where it will occur. It is rarely uniform or evenly distributed and may vary significantly even on a day to day basis. Traditionally fouling is strongly, but not exclusively, associated with heat processes. Typical examples and their consequences are shown in Table 1.


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