Health trends and developments among consumers pose challenges for food and beverage producers. But can equipment such as homogenizers turn those challenges into opportunities? Here we look into four current global trends and explore the role of homogenizers and homogenization in each.
1. Keep it natural
According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, natural product claims appeared on 29% of global food and drink launches from September 2016 to August 2017. This is an increase from 17% of global food and drink launches that used natural claims in the same period ten years earlier. These kind of claims include wording such as “no additives”, “no preservatives”, “organic” and “GMO-free”.
Homogenization allows the removal of certain additives to meet the demand for a more natural product. In many cases, the function of additives is to increase viscosity. But homogenization may be able to improve viscosity without the need for additives. There are two main ways homogenization raises viscosity. Firstly, hydrogen bonds in fibres are broken down and replaced by hydrogen bonds with water. Secondly, naturally-occurring pectin in fibres becomes more accessible. Pectin is the substance that gives jam its sticky consistency.
An example is the manufacture of tomato ketchup. CMC (carboxymethylcellulose) is a modified cellulose gum used as a stabilizer and thickener. It forms a gel with water and is sometimes added in ketchup production. With more and more consumers demanding a “clean label” (no additives), ketchup manufacturers want to replace CMC. It is possible to remove CMC by increasing the pressure in the homogenizer to about 280 bar. In this way, more of the naturally-occurring stabilizers in the tomatoes are released to achieve a similar viscosity and stability as when using CMC.
Homogenization can also remove the need for artificial colouring. During homogenization, fruit and vegetable cells rupture and the particles become smaller. This improves the colour appearance. Homogenization also has an impact on flavours minimizing the need for artificial flavouring.
2. Veganism grows
While milk is a staple food and basic ingredient in many parts of the world, there are a growing number of people who are turning away from milk for ethical, environmental or health reasons. Taking the UK as an example, one estimate (from a Vegan Society survey of May 2016) is that at least 542,000 people in Britain are following a vegan diet, which means that about 1% of UK residents claim they never consume any animal products. This is a big increase since their last estimate of 150,000 ten years earlier.
A whole range of milk substitutes have sprung up in recent years made from plant-based sources known by the abbreviation RNGS (rice, nuts, grains and soya). They are not just consumed by vegans. For example, peanut drink is very popular in China. The peanut particles themselves can be very abrasive on a homogenizer causing fast wear. It is a similar story with other nuts or particles of rice, grain and soya bean. With wear being such a critical factor, producers of such drinks need to carefully consider the durability of a homogenizer.
One way of dealing with this issue is to choose pistons and piston seals with harder materials such as tungsten carbide or ceramics. This keeps costs for spare parts and maintenance low when processing abrasive particles of rice, nuts, grains and soya beans into drinks for a growing sector of the beverages market.
3. Yes to yoghurt
The yoghurt market in China is booming, with annual sales of more than USD 10 billion. The annual growth rate in yoghurt sales is about 15-20 percent and expected to continue to grow as the Chinese people embrace this healthy food which is advertised to help them grow tall and strong. Yoghurt has generally been consumed as a drink in China, but newly launched products are spoonable, often containing particles of grains or larger fruit pieces.
To make yoghurt drinks, many producers put fermented yoghurt through a homogenizer to liquefy it. For small or medium-sized dairies with a limited number of lines, they may be homogenizing milk one day and then yoghurt the next on the same line. Therefore there are clear benefits to purchasing a homogenizer that can handle viscous products like yoghurt as well as milk without having to change the valves.
Homogenizers are also used to liquefy fruit for smoothies or juices, which are perceived as healthy drinks or indulgent treats. The soft pulp of fruit can be broken down in a homogenizer to smaller particles to give these products the right viscosity and mouthfeel.
4. The diabetes threat
One of the largest risks to global health is obesity. According to the World Health Organization, more than 650 million adults worldwide were living with obesity in 2017, and this number is forecast to grow to 1 billion by 2025. Being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, among other diseases.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that more than 425 million people have diabetes and this number is likely to grow to at least 650 million by 2045 based on current projections. Currently about 9 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 79 have diabetes with all the health risks that entails: an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer, for example.
One development to address what has been called a “diabetes epidemic” is new functional milk formulations containing biologically active ingredients thought to prevent cardiovascular diseases. The recipes for such products are complex and they often contain ingredients with a high viscosity.
These innovative milk formulations for diabetics are just one example of the challenges food producers face with new complex recipes. A homogenizer for such applications needs to be flexible enough to deal with different formulations and with different viscosities. Some modern homogenizers can manage a wide range of recipes and viscosities without requiring rebuilding or a complicated set-up, and enable operators to change the recipe at the click of a button.
To read more on the topic: download the white paper “Understanding ambient yoghurt”: