Ultrasound for better milk

Wednesday, 06 July, 2005

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are developing an ultrasound technology that could help the Australian dairy industry of overcome many of the difficulties currently encountered in dairy processing.

Dr Muthupandian Ashokkumar from the University's School of Chemistry said the technology would use high-frequency sound waves to generate chemical and physical interactions in milk and other dairy products, which would subsequently lead to dairy protein modification. The scientists hoped the development would improve the quality of common dairy processes such as heat stabilisation while reduce the cost.

"[The technology] may provide us with an opportunity to modify the processing characteristics and end-use functionality of dairy ingredients."

The process was called sonochemistry, which involved passing ultra-high frequency sound waves through a liquid in order to manipulate the structures of molecules and chemical interactions that occurred in the liquid.

"Already the techniques has been used in a range of processes from the decomposition of organic wastes to the enhancement of drug absorption. Its use in the food industry is still in a developmental stage," said Dr Ashokkumar.

The Victorian Government's Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Initiative recently granted the research team " a collaboration of the University of Melbourne, Food Science Australia, Swinburne University of Technology and CSIRO Plant Industry " A$3.5 million to explore the potential of ultrasound and other emerging technologies for use in the food industry as part of its Advanced Processing and Innovative Foods program.

Dr Ashokkumar, in collaboration with Food Science Australia and the Dairy Ingredients Group of Australia was awarded an additional ARC Linkage grant worth A$375,000.

The additional funding would be used to investigate the potential of a technique called ultrafiltration, which could be used to concentrate whey " a by-product of cheese making that could be otherwise difficult to dispose of due to the vast quantities produced.

"[The research] will place the Australian dairy industry in a pre-eminent position for the development of valuable, heat-stable and uniquely functional dairy ingredients," said Dr Ashokkumar.

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