X rays tell stirring tale about fat

9:52pm, March 26, 2002

From Indianapolis, at the March meeting of the American Physical Society

In a novel example of physics probing beneath the veneer of everyday phenomena, scientists have used X rays to look at the microstructural details of fats as they're mixed and cooled during food manufacturing.

The size, shape, and stability of fat crystals in foods affect such qualities as margarine's spreadability and ice cream's feel in an eater's mouth, says Gianfranco Mazzanti of the University of Guelph in Ontario. Chocolate makers seed their products with fat crystals of certain structures to encourage batches to come out with consistent properties.

In new experiments, Mazzanti, Alejandro G. Marangoni of Guelph, and Stefan Idziak of the University of Waterloo in Ontario mimicked conditions in food-processing plants. There, the blades of powerful mixing machines subject food ingredients, including fats, to intense shear forces, which tear the substances.

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