The Food Industry’s Little Helper14 Oct 2014
Enzymes are little helpers that make the food world go around. Chemically speaking, of course, they are complex biological catalysts that promote various kinds of biochemical reactions, mostly by lowering the activation energies of specific substrates. I was never any good at chemistry. I prefer to think of enzymes in the commercial sense. The uses […]
Enzymes are little helpers that make the food world go around. Chemically speaking, of course, they are complex biological catalysts that promote various kinds of biochemical reactions, mostly by lowering the activation energies of specific substrates. I was never any good at chemistry. I prefer to think of enzymes in the commercial sense.
The uses of enzymes are many and can be seen as parts of a jigsaw puzzle, which help to smooth off corners or fill in inexplicable gaps. One of the pioneers in analytical chemistry Emil Fischer, Nobel Prize Winner in 1902, described this as the “lock and key model”. For food scientists, it is more a question of using enzymes to control specific reactions, such as the difference between ripening and spoilage in fruits and vegatables. This can be done by deactivating them through heat, to increase shelf-life or immobilizing an enzyme by attaching it to another inert object which will limit its activity without affecting the food product.
On the other hand, enzymes can be purified and added to food products to activate certain features in the food to be processed; for example, there are enzymes which help to convert starch into sugar in baking, confectionery and beverages. Other enzymes can increase juice yield from grapes, clarify wine or fruit juices, or tenderise meats. Enzymes are also widely used in the brewing process.
More recently, enzymes are being applied in the meat industry to help improve the flavour profile, as well as reducing allergic reactions to some proteins. An example of this is protease from DSM, a former Fi Europe Award Winner. This enzyme breaks down protein chains into smaller fragments, helping improve the uptake of amino acids in the digestive tract – a functionality that is well appreciated by the sports nutrition market. Furthermore, allergic reactions to food products can be reduced by proteases that help degrade specific immune response triggers on wheat gluten or cow milk proteins. Also, high protein beverages typically require protein levels of 20% or more, putting a high demand on the solubility of the protein used in the drink.
The market for high protein food products continues to grow as they enable consumers, conscious about health and wellness, to take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that includes weight management, satiety and muscle build-up and repair for exercise. Moreover, the awareness of protein intake has gone mainstream with a recent Mintel report saying that over half of Americans are looking for more protein in their diet. Recent years have also seen an increase of prices of protein for multifunctional use.
Where and how specifically enzymes are involved in cutting amino acids, and at which pH and temperature they do their work, all impact how the protein will end up tasting and feeling in the end product.
It is fascinating to take a closer look at some components of food science, which many consumers take for granted – like the little enzyme, without which we would all be much poorer!
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