Pour a cup of coffee, and you might find yourself reaching for something to sweeten it up. If you’re a fan of artificial sweeteners, you probably have a preference for whether you stir in something that comes in a blue, pink or yellow packet. One might have a flavor that lingers or another might taste somewhat bitter to you.
Understanding those kinds of differences is a vital part of research in the fields of food chemistry and ingredient technology, especially as researchers make advancements toward natural and clean-label food ingredients. In Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Abbaspourrad Lab is working on just that.
Alireza Abbaspourrad, the Yongkeun Joh Assistant Professor of Food Chemistry and Ingredient Technology, and his research associate, Younas Dadmohammadi, are trying to understand the physical and biochemical characteristics of food ingredients. Their work takes place on a molecular scale, where they can help develop new ingredients and take a closer look at how our bodies respond to different food ingredients.
This research recently received a boost, thanks to a partnership between Nanoscience Instruments and Biolin Scientific. Nanoscience Instruments provides cutting edge scientific instrumentation, supports research partners with one-on-one guidance on how to best use their instruments and offers contract analytical research services. Biolin Scientific is another company that makes state-of-the-art equipment and helps scientists find smart solutions to ongoing areas of inquiry.
The three teams are combining new tools and new technology with their collective expertise to advance their understanding of food ingredients and turn that knowledge into practical applications.
“It’s a great collaboration because not only are we using the equipment in food science, but also we’re incorporating their knowledge to shed light on undiscovered areas,” Abbaspourrad said. “The scientific team provides input that helps us with the interpretation of the data and service maintenance of equipment.”
One of the tools that the Abbaspourrad Lab uses is called QSense Analyzer. Developed by Biolin Scientific, this line of instrumentation lets researchers look at surface-molecule interactions in real time. At the core of these interactions is the secret to understanding people’s perceptions of different food ingredients, including color, texture, flavor and aroma.
“QSense Analyzer gives us a better understanding of how food ingredients interact with each other and with the tongue in the oral cavity, which helps us formulate better products at the high level,” Abbaspourrad said.
To measure those nanoscale interactions, the Abbaspourrad Lab uses a high precision technique referred to as quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D) monitoring, which is a working principle of Biolin’s equipment.
They start by taking a protein from a specific food product or saliva and placing it on the vibrating QCM-D gold sensor. They can then use a liquid solution to make other molecules, such as different flavors or sweeteners, pass by the protein. When those other molecules stick to the protein, it increases the mass on the sensor, and thus decreases the frequency of the vibration.
“Using Biolin’s tools, we can detect the change in frequency,” Abbaspourrad said. “If we have Flavor A, Flavor B and Flavor C that all pass through the sensor, they will all interact differently with that protein coated on the surface depending on their molecular structure.”
Using that information, the Abbaspourrad Lab can develop new formulations for food products with a better understanding of how the ingredients will interact. For example, in 2019, they discovered that beet extract has a longer shelf stability than other ingredients used for natural red food coloring.
“We are pleased to be supporting this important research from Dr. Abbaspourrad, which helps to bring insight to the research community on the effects of food ingredient technologies for human health,” said Christopher Harling, global manager for Biolin Scientific.
At Nanoscience Instruments, Senior Application Scientist Archana Jaiswal said, “We are looking forward to supporting the research findings and helping to disseminate this new research for the wider scientific community.”
Abbaspourrad agreed, “We look forward to furthering our collaboration with their team and utilizing their tools to expand this field of research.”