By Diana Maricruz Perez Santos
When my friend Tom invited me to participate in this blog, he suggested I write about my research topic. I remember my answer: “24/7 is a lot gelatinized starch for me.” I have even earned the nickname “Diana Starch” between my peers. Every day I notice there is still much I must learn in this field. But, here I will write a little about this reaction and its use in the food industry.
The science of gelatinization
Starch gelatinization is the process where starch and water are subjected to heat causing the starch granules to swell. As a result, the water is gradually absorbed in an irreversible manner. This gives the system a viscous and transparent texture. The result of the reaction is a gel, which is used in sauces, puddings, creams and other food products, providing a pleasing texture.
The most common example to explain this phenomenon is pasta preparation: pasta is made mostly of semolina wheat (wheat flour) that contains high amounts of starch. When it is cooked in boiling water, the size increases because it absorbs water and it gets a soft texture.
From the kitchen to my thesis
The organic nature of starch is not predictable in food industry processes, resulting in slow progress in terms of technology development. Its use has led to the search for techniques to standardize behavior during industrial processes in order to optimize specific processes and provide solutions to common problems and give a guideline for the development of better products.
Currently, a large number of foods utilize starch gelatinization, and this governs the manner in which processes are designed. However it is known that this reaction is susceptible to many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that directly affect the way it develops, often a slight variation of any factors could sacrifice the characteristic texture of the food.
In order to continue enjoying soft food with great quality, progress in material analysis and characterization has enabled analytical techniques such as scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy for visual analysis of starch surface and morphology. Techniques such as x-ray diffraction and magnetic resonance imaging are useful to learn the specific structure of each type of starch, and others such as differential scanning calorimetry (the technique in which I specialize) serve to describe gelatinization according to their energy requirements.
This reaction also raised my interest in the study of process simulation techniques, where you can use special computer programs to model food production processes before they even exist.
Different varieties of starch and their functionality in various industrial processes are the biggest challenge to developing simple, easy, and comprehensive applications to predict the reaction behavior during production.
As you can see this is a little bit of the state of my research topic. If you are interested in learning more or have any questions regarding starch gelatinization or differential scanning calorimetry, leave them in the comment section below; it would be a pleasure to help you.
How do you use the amazing process of starch gelatinization? Research, work, or maybe simply cooking up a big bowl of pasta?
Photo credit: Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by http://modernistcuisine.com