Food Makers Turn to Space Experts, Zero Gravity to Develop Healthier Products
On Friday, Nestlé SA announced its latest push to understand the science of air bubbles, which have become an important area of focus for it and other companies such as Unilever PLC. UL -0.71% Such research can help perfect the froth of a cappuccino, the fluff of an ice cream or the texture of a skin lotion. The science of air bubbles may also lead to new methods for developing healthy food products.
Nestlé, which makes Nescafé coffee, Dreyer’s ice cream and KitKat chocolate bars, partnered with the European Space Agency to learn more about foam by testing how a water and milk-protein sample responded in zero gravity.
Nestlé researchers sent the samples on a space-simulation plane commonly known as the “vomit comet,” which flies in parabolas at a maximum height of 28,000 feet to replicate zero-gravity conditions. In flight, a machine tested the stability of the sample’s bubbles.
“We want to make a near to ‘perfect’ bubble in order to achieve the right balance for different products in our range—not too big, not too small,” Nestlé scientist Cécile Gehin-Delval said in a statement. The stability of bubbles can impact the texture, taste and shelf life of certain products, the company noted.
Nestlé isn’t targeting any specific products with the experiment but says research on air bubbles, and their interaction with other substances, helps improve all sorts of food in its range. One example is the “Foam Booster,” which the company added to Nescafé instant cappuccino powder in the early 2000s. It uses aeration technology to produce a burst of cappuccino-style foam upon contact with hot water.
In recent years, Unilever has singled out air bubbles and foam as a research focus.
One reason food makers have concentrated on the topic is that tiny air bubbles can help the companies meet growing demand for healthier products. A 2010 study published by Unilever scientists in the Journal of Food Science concluded that air bubbles could replace sizable portions of salt and sugar in food products with limited impact on taste.