1 May 2024

Fluid gels as the solution to the sensory drawbacks of plant-based foods

Food innovation

Getting consumers on board with more plant-based diets is not only a question of climate-friendliness, health benefits or taste. The texture must also be as satisfying as in the food we’re used to. This conundrum is what Ph.d.-student Gabriele D’Oria may have solved by an innovative use of fluid gels.

Gabriele D'Oria
Gabriele D'Oria has investigated fluid gels in various ways throughout his Ph.D., and in late 2023, he won the 1st prize of the “PhD Student of the Year Award” from the European Federation of Food Science and Technology as well as winning the best oral PhD student presentation at the 19th Food Colloids Conference in the end of April 2024.

Changing our dietary habits towards more plant-based foods is a crucial step in the green transition. But just because plant-based foods are more climate friendly does not necessarily make them the obvious choice for the consumer. They need to hit the same satisfying spots that the consumers’ typical diet does – both in taste and texture.

That key problem is what Gabriele D’Oria, Ph.D.-student at Department of Food Science, may have contributed to a solution for over the last three years: negating some of the sensory drawbacks that otherwise great plant-based foods can have in terms of texture. He has done this by delving into the make-up and uses of fluid gels.

“It doesn’t matter how great a food product is for your health or for the environment, if you don’t like it, you won’t consume it. And some plant-based foods, that are great in many ways, are really not nice to eat. So, I’ve worked on new ways to improve texture of these foods using fluid gels,” says Gabriele D’Oria.  

Effective solutions, easy implementations

Fluid gels are concentrated gel particles suspended in a liquid medium that can be designed through processing and formulation parameters to have the desired properties. Gabriele has, throughout his Ph.D., investigated both the fundamentals of the fluid gels contributing to a better physical characterization of these systems, then explored how processing and formulation alters them, and lastly, he has been working on developing the gel coating that can be used to reduce negative textural attributes caused by dietary fibers.

On the latter of Gabriele’s work, he helped discover that the same process that is used to manufacture fluid gels can also be used to create a gel layer around a product such as fiber particles. And this has significant potential for the food industry, as it can coat particles with undesired textural properties to reduce their negative mouthfeel, and even do it better than with the polymer-based texturizers that are typically used in the food industry today.

“It’s a new way of controlling mouth textures, and that is quite exciting. All through my Ph.D., I’ve enjoyed getting to understand the field better and deeper, but also the fact that I can actively contribute to something as important as food in the green transition – that is important for me. To really try and bring effective solutions that are also easy to implement. That is exciting,” says Gabriele D’Oria.

The discoveries brought by Gabriele’s Ph.d. were also possible thanks to the precious collaboration with academic partners Deniz Z. Gunes from KU Leuven Belgium, François Lequeux from ESPCI and Wender Bredie from the University of Copenhagen and industrial partners Christoph Hartmann and Hans Joerg Limbach from Nestlé Research.

Innovative and prize-winning mind

Gabriele is in the process of wrapping up his Ph.D. at the Department of Food Science, and in fact, he has already started a new position as a development scientist in Novonesis. Before his Ph.D.-studies, Gabriele also worked in industry. And he suspects that his work experience prior to his scientific pursuits have helped to guide his curiosity towards innovation.

“I really like the problem-solving approach in research because it gears the work towards innovating. We had this problem: some great foods are not nice to eat. That of course triggered my curiosity towards the use of fluid gels to solve it,” explains Gabriele.

And there is good reason to suspect that Gabriele’s curiosity and approach is something to strive for, as he won the 1st prize of the “PhD Student of the Year Award” from the European Federation of Food Science and Technology, which is given to students that show “their dedication, innovation and commitment to advancing the field of food science and technology.”

“It was an amazing experience, and I felt extremely honored. I’ve been to the conference before, and I always looked up at these students thinking that they must’ve done something amazing, and I never imagined that I’d be one of those one day. I just remember my heart beating very fast, and that I was sitting next to Lilia Ahrné, my supervisor. It was nice getting to share that experience with her. It’s a day that I won’t forget,” says Gabriele, who also won the best oral PhD student presentation at the 19th Food Colloids Conference just last week.


Gabriele D'Oria
Ph.D. student, Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen

Lilia Ahrné
Professor and primary supervisor, Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen

Thomas Sten Pedersen
Communications Officer, Department of Food Science