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Group photo of the participants at the food science symposium

Can you create a great-tasting meat substitute from plant ingredients? How can you make a better chocolate from natural ingredients? With an aim to grow international collaboration around food science research and questions like these, last month Ryerson’s Dr. Dérick Rousseau, a professor in Ryerson’s Chemistry and Biology department along with Dr. Auke de Vries, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab proudly hosted the university’s inaugural Food Science Research Symposium.

The event, held on June 13th at Ryerson, brought together bright young students, academics and industry researchers from both Canada and The Netherlands. With attendee groups including Ryerson students and a visiting Food Process Engineering group from Wageningen University, the symposium highlighted exciting developments in food processing, food formulation, and the underlying physical-chemical properties of various processed foods. The overarching themes included improving food structure, using raw materials efficiently and improving food digestion.

The event put the spotlight on a number of Ryerson students who are completing Master’s and PhD studies in food science and nutrition – and also facilitated a knowledge exchange between them and their international peers. During the symposium, 15 graduate students from both universities presented oral research presentations and 45 gave poster presentations.

To kick off the symposium, Dr. Steven Liss, Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation, and a chemistry and biology professor, spoke of the importance of global academic collaboration – something he coined “brain circulation.” The Ryerson symposium and events like it, he said, highlight the need for young students and university institutions to think globally, and exchange knowledge. And indeed, with more than 70 graduate students, professors, and business partners participating, the symposium fulfilled its goal in encouraging sharing, collaboration and furthering of global networking strategies.

Event convenor, Dr. Rousseau also highlighted the event’s research focus, namely to process sustainable food that is both tasty and efficiently made. He told attendees that as the demand for naturally-produced food increases, traditional primary food production methods have been failing to reflect trends – most particularly for environmentally friendly and health-conscious innovations. This was echoed by Dr. Remko Boom, lead food process engineering professor from Wageningen University, who added that to improve the quality, nutrition and sustainability of food, researchers must focus on novel processes and food structuring techniques with lower-energy requirements.

Research highlights at the symposium included the following:

A new generation of meat alternatives
With interest in plant-based diets at an all-time high, creators of a new generation of meat-substitutes have a ready market. Taking plant protein and developing new methods for producing meat alternatives – with a satisfying meat-like structure – is one of the main research areas at Wageningen University. At the conference, Birgit Dekkers, Jia Wanquing, Alime Cengiz, and Patrícia Duque Estrada highlighted their work using in-house developed so-called “shear-cell” technology. Their technique involves heating a mixture of plant protein and polysaccharides under simple shear flow, which causes the proteins to align and, after they’ve cooled, causes the material to form fibrous structures, mimicking the texture of meat. The four presenters talked both about the mechanics of their novel technique, the addition of oil and digestive and nutritional properties of their product including iron fortification.

Effective emulsifiers
Both the Wageningen and Ryerson labs devote a great deal of research on emulsifiers, substances which are added to processed foods to prevent ingredients from separating. Multiple presentations highlighted advances in this key area.

• Anja Shchröder from Wageningen and Malek El-Aooiti from Ryerson talked about solid nano-particles, their system stability and their effectiveness as emulsifiers and controlled delivery vehicles.
• Juliana Romero Guzmán, of Wageningen University, showed how emulsion-based foods can be prepared using a sustainable extraction process and isolation of oil from sunflower seeds. She also demonstrated how the co-extracted proteins from this process can be used as an alternative protein source.
• Qinhui Xing from Wageningen University discussed a process called “dry fractionation,” which involves separating a protein-rich and polysaccharide-rich fraction from legumes without water.

Advances with oil-continuous foods like chocolate
A huge focus for Ryerson’s food research lab has been on advancements with oil-continuous foods, such as margarine and chocolate. Here, Ryan West used regression analysis to show that, by altering processing conditions during crystallization, it’s possible to drastically alter the interactions between sugar and cocoa butter. A better understanding of this process leads to more efficient processing of chocolate.

Ryerson’s Jessica Phulchand and Selvyn Simoes discussed the importance of emulsifiers in controlling the rheological properties and crystallization of chocolate. As we increase our understanding in this field and identify the underlying mechanisms, chocolate products can be developed with all-natural ingredients. In the same research vein, Khakhanang Wijarnprecha presented her work on developing alternative oil-structuring techniques to replace trans fats and saturated fats. Finally, Ruby Rafanan shared her findings on the rheology of water-in-oil emulsions, and alternative emulsifiers can help reduce the need for saturated fat as a structuring agent in oil-continuous products.

Many positive outcomes
Together, students from Ryerson who are supervised by Dr. Rousseau and Wageningen University who are supervised by Dr. Boom showed that their research has great promise, and may ultimately lead to the discovery of new principles and eco-efficient processes that will improve the sustainability, taste, digestion, and nutrition of food.

After their research presentations, attendees were also able to network at an event hosted by Ryerson’s Science and Discovery Zone (SDZ). Overall, the 2018 symposium gave young and talented student researchers from Canada and The Netherlands, their professors and industry players a unique change to connect, share innovative research methods and outputs.

The first Food Science Research Symposium was a great success that has set the stage for future international collaborations in food research – an important growth area for Ryerson. Keep an eye out for more exciting research news and events to come!

Contact us to learn more:
Mary Susan Thomson
Research Associate, Science Research and Innovation Office
Faculty of Science, Ryerson University / 416-979-5000 x 543576