What is Food Science?

Food science integrates several scientific disciplines with the aim of upholding food safety and security. Throughout its history, the analytical methods within food science have implemented emerging technology as well as a wider range of food types, with many promising candidates at the forefront of innovative research.

Food Science

Food Science. Image Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Integrating science in the food industry

With a rapidly growing world population, current and future generations around the world are faced with many challenges. Specifically, global food security represents an unprecedented issue as it is associated with many socio-economic as well as environmental issues.

Addressing food security requires solutions that rely on scientific progress and innovation. As such, research into the scientific principles of food production and consumption has gained momentum due to the importance of food security, human health, and economic prosperity.

In response, food science has emerged as an interdisciplinary field of increasing interest. Food science refers to "the application of basic sciences to study the physical, chemical, and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing" as defined by Potter Norman.

Food science involves principles and analytical methods derived from chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology, and engineering to provide the scientific basis associated with the many facets of the food system. The fundamentals of food science rely on the basic chemistry of food components, such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and water, and the reactions they undergo during processing and storage.

This understanding is then applied to improving processing and preservation methods including drying, freezing, or pasteurization.

The current state of food science

Food science has been employed primarily to ensure high quality and competitive products through the use of scientific principles and new technologies. As such, upholding food safety and improving analytical techniques has been a central mission of many regulatory institutions on national international levels.

In turn, these institutions rely on scientific research to improve current safety regulations and develop new methods by integrating the different facets within food science. For instance, within food science, food chemistry is the study of chemical processes and interactions of all biological and non-biological components of foods.

These processes are essential to understanding how chemical attributes contribute to processes of food manufacturing including production, preservation, or decomposition. Since 1884, the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC) has developed a range of methods for food component analysis and become a source of reliable food research. These methods rely on a range of techniques, primarily chemistry-related, to breakdown, identify, and quantify the exact composition of components within different food types.

Procedures of food analysis exemplified by dietary fiber

Since the 1960s analytical techniques in food analysis have transitioned from employing classical ‘wet’ chemistry towards more complex instrumental techniques. Studies have also identified an increasing number of food components, including dietary fiber, which was first defined in 1953.

Dietary fiber is currently identified by the British Nutrient Foundation in 2018 as “the plant components that are not broken down by human digestive enzymes”, consisting of non-starch polysaccharides, cellulose, or beta-glucans that are typically found in high concentration within fruits, vegetables, and grain. Research has shown that consuming more dietary fiber confers physiological benefits and is recognized to improve the adverse effects of diseases such as diabetes as well as coronary heart disease and can improve the absorption of other nutrients as well.

First developed in 1985, the classical method of quantifying dietary fiber in food (method AOAC 985.29) was designed by Leon Prosky, who established this method as the reference technique for the analysis of dietary fiber. The so-called ‘Prosky method’ simulates the digestion process by relying on removing fats and degrading protein content as well as any starches in samples using heat-stable bacterial α- amylase, protease, and amyloglucosidase. However, this method carried several flaws due to the fact it does not consider the full range of existing dietary fiber components.

To address the shortcomings of the Proksy method evolved into the McCleary Method, which was designed in 2009 and considers the added components of dietary fiber neglected by the classical method. Similar to the Prosky method, AOAC 2009.01 also considers the use of digestive enzymes before obtaining the total dietary fiber content of food samples through gas chromatography.

The benefit of improving such procedures was further documented in a 2013 study by Brunt and Sanders, who attempted to determine the most efficient method in quantifying fiber content in bread and other high starch foods. By adding another step of hydrolysis, researchers were able to obtain even more accurate quantities of fiber.

Recent studies have also been able to develop artificial dietary fibers that can be used for a variety of functional causes, from dietary supplements to medicine. Accordingly, dietary fiber is rapidly becoming a promising candidate for further research due to the potential to benefit human health and wellbeing but also offers a unique opportunity for improving analytical techniques.

Future trajectories in food science

Although food science typically considers the effects of food items currently produced, the future of food science may also involve a wider range of food items that have yet to be commonly adopted. This is the case for the use of microalgae, which was hypothesized in a 2017 paper by Brazilian researcher Ângelo Paggi Matos to hold considerable potential in improving dietary quality and contribute to long-term food security.

Matos highlighted the advantages of microalgae in comparison to land plants including more efficient photosynthesis rates, a higher growth rate, and shorter harvesting cycle, the ability to grow in less-than-ideal conditions, and the possibility of also being used in biofuel, animal feed, or biorefineries. Such advantages may justify a broader use of microalgae within the food industry, potentially making microalgae a promising research candidate for developing long-term food security and broadening the scope of consumable food items.

Looking forward, food science may also benefit from the integration of other disciplines yet to be included within the realm of food science, including the use of citizen science. Such progress may be Looking forward, food science may also be further enhanced by implementing new technology, as proven by the increasingly frequent use of nanotechnology to improve food safety and quality in processing as well as manufacturing.

The improvement of analytical methods and integration of large-scale data as well as new technology will contribute towards the continuous development of food science, ultimately improving the outlook of food security in a rapidly evolving world.

Sources:

  • Brunt, K., & Sanders, P. (2013). Improvement of the AOAC 2009.01 total dietary fiber method for bread and other high starch containing matrices. Food Chemistry, 140(3), 574–580. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.10.109
  • Granato, D., Putnik, P., Kovačević, D. B. ć., Santos, J. S., Calado, V., Rocha, R. S., Cruz, A. G. D., Jarvis, B., Rodionova, O. Y., & Pomerantsev, A. (2018). Trends in Chemometrics: Food Authentication, Microbiology, and Effects of Processing. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 17(3), 663–677. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12341
  • Matos, Â. P. (2017). The Impact of Microalgae in Food Science and Technology. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 94(11), 1333–1350. doi:10.1007/s11746-017-3050-7
  • Ryan, S. F., Adamson, N. L., Aktipis, A., Andersen, L. K., Austin, R., Barnes, L., Beasley, M. R., Bedell, K. D., Briggs, S., Chapman, B., Cooper, C. B., Corn, J. O., Creamer, N. G., Delborne, J. A., Domenico, P., Driscoll, E., Goodwin, J., Hjarding, A., Hulbert, J. M., … Dunn, R. R. (2018). The role of citizen science in addressing grand challenges in food and agriculture research. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285(1891), 20181977. doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1977
  • Singh, T., Shukla, S., Kumar, P., Wahla, V., Bajpai, V. K., & Rather, I. A. (2017). Application of Nanotechnology in Food Science: Perception and Overview. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8, 1. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.01501

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 17, 2021

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  

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