Last Month's Most Accessed Feature: Better bread and beer: Chemometric bakeoff

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  • Published: Dec 1, 2017
  • Categories: Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Last Month's Most Accessed Feature: Better bread and beer: Chemometric bakeoff

Grain of truth

The use of multivariate data has allowed researchers from the Department of Food Science (FOOD) at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to build a regression model of the analysis of whole grains at long near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths obtained with a supercontinuum laser. The research could improve our understanding of the chemistry of food ingredients with implications for improving bread and beer. (Photo by David Bradley)

The use of multivariate data has allowed researchers from the Department of Food Science (FOOD) at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to build a regression model of the analysis of whole grains at long near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths obtained with a supercontinuum laser. The research could improve our understanding of the chemistry of food ingredients with implications for improving bread and beer.

Supercontinuum lasers have moved on apace since the turn of the century largely because of the development of the photonic crystal fibre, this has expanded the applications for which they might now be used considerably. "The supercontinuum laser has made it possible to measure very small objects rapidly and with high energy," explains team member Tine Ringsted. "A supercontinuum instrument can therefore potentially be used to measure whole grains and thus find grains with, for example, fungal or insect attacks, or to sort grains by baking, health or quality parameters," she adds.

How oats and barley grow

The researchers have found that they can scan individual grains accurately and so observe the variation that naturally exists among grains from the same field and even from the same harvest batch. The technique is non-destructive and rapid so could readily be used in plant breeding to pinpoint grains with specific desirable properties or in industrial grain sorting to help remove diseased or damaged grains to increase batch quality. It might also be possible to use the approach to measure dietary fibre content in the form of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is present in barley and oats and is thought to have health benefits such as reducing serum cholesterol, increasing satiety and stabilising blood sugar levels and insulin concentration following a meal containing these grains. Whereas beta-glucan is a useful nutrient that might be maximised for food, brewers would prefer concentrations of this substance to be as low as possible in their grain as it can clog filters and lead to cloudy precipitates in an otherwise finished beer.

Earlier experiments to measure barley flour and barley discs failed with conventional techniques. By contrast, "The supercontinuum laser’s collimated light beam with high energy meant that we could measure through the entire barley grain at the information-rich wavelengths" Ringsted explains. She adds that by using multivariate data analysis, chemometrics, the team could generate a mathematical regression model that could predict beta-glucan content from 3.0-16.8 % in barley grains with a margin of error of 1.3 % beta-glucan.

Sorted

The team suggests that seed sorting would allow grains to be categorised based on health-promoting potential or selected for optimal brewing. "This will give both products a higher value without doing anything, but sorting the grains," says Tine Ringsted. She believes that food analysis with supercontinuum lasers will eventually be the way forward for many areas of food industry analysis. She points out that high-throughput technology for scanning grains is currently being developed. A sample holder that can handle approximately three tonnes of grain per hour has been developed. However, at the moment that system uses shorter and less informative wavelengths. The technology to couple the supercontinuum laser approach is yet to be implemented and scaled up for industry. Once the technology matures there will be applications a wide range of food industries not just those handling grain. For instance, the supercontinuum laser could be used in the dairy or brewing industry to follow a product from start to finish. It might also be used to quickly measure volatile aroma compounds or the fruit-ripening hormone ethylene.

Related Links

Analyt Chim Acta 2017, online: "Long wavelength near-infrared transmission spectroscopy of barley seeds using a supercontinuum laser: Prediction of mixed-linkage beta-glucan content"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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