Friday, 15 April 2016 13:55

‘Product fingerprint’ helps hunt for healthy new foods

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Raman confocal image. Raman confocal image.

Fonterra researchers have made a breakthrough chemical imprint for the dairy industry.

Their latest development uses Raman spectroscopic imaging to reveal the "product fingerprint" in food structures, which could speed up product development and help in the hunt for healthy new foods. This is the first use of this technology by the dairy industry internationally, the co-op believes.

Research was supported by the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain Primary Growth Partnership, co-funded by MPI, Fonterra, DairyNZ and others in the industry.

Fonterra manager, food structure design, Christina Coker, says the researchers' work is a "major step forward for new technology development, being able to know where your components are sitting in a structure so Fonterra's manufacturing operation can get the properties they want and for new product development".

The innovation will help researchers know more about the makeup of the food structures they are studying and the chemical interactions of any additions and changes. And this can happen in near-real time, much like Fonterra's milk fingerprinting breakthrough, which won a national innovation award last year.

"A day doing this is worth months of trial and error," says Coker of chemical fingerprinting.

The result is the culmination of six years research by Fonterra senior technical officer Elizabeth Nickless, supported by colleague Dr Steve Holroyd and professor Keith Gordon's team at Otago University, and the University of Auckland, which has the only Raman instrument in the country.

It was also made possible by advances over the past couple of years in high-resolution imaging.

The spectroscopic technique builds on traditional confocal laser microscopy and analyses the distribution of chemical bonds to give a clearer, unprecedented picture of structures and interactions in samples.

The confocal process uses lasers to create high resolution images with depth. The Raman spectroscopy, named after Indian physicist Sir C. V. Raman, analyses vibrational, rotational and other low-frequency modes to clarify the picture even more.

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