UCPH FOOD’s research in food processing
Research in how to best process our food helps to form the basis for the Danish food industry and is a high priority research focus at the Department of Food Science (UCPH FOOD). With this research we create and communicate new knowledge of interest to society, including to consumers, the food industry and related industries as well as our students who will help shape the future food industry.
Some foods can be eaten directly after harvesting. This applies, for example, to vegetables, fruit and fresh milk. But a significant portion of our food is used as raw materials and ingredients and is processed before it reaches our dinner table, for example, bread, cold cuts and ready-made dinner dishes. Processing typically also involves increasing food safety or shelf-life, which is the case for pasteurised milk, fermented milk products like yoghurt and skyr, or salt pickled or sugar preserved products like gherkins, beetroot, red cabbage, pickled herring and sausages.
A wide range of disciplines at UCPH FOOD are engaged in food processing:
UCPH FOOD has a comprehensive platform – Future Consumer Lab – for sensory research to ensure that the relationship between food and our senses is in harmony and can be utilised positively – for example, in relation to public health. We research the importance of taste, smell, sight, hearing and the sense of touch in relation to the food we eat. This research aims, among other things, to produce healthy and tasty foods and food ingredients that address the specific needs of different populations. For example, we research how to compensate for a partial loss of the ability to smell and taste food that older people can experience so that they do not lose their appetite and will want to eat more. The background for this is that a large number of older people are malnourished and thus have an increased risk for loss of function and disease.
In the Gastronomic Science Lab (Gastro Science Lab), chefs and researchers collaborate to develop foods that make a difference in society. For example, this could include utilising local crops for food and meals with a high gastronomic quality, thus getting the population to choose healthy and sustainable foods because of the desire to eat them, as desire often drives our food choices.
We research process control in our food productions using so-called rapid methods (Process Analytical Technology), which can help companies in food and biotech industries avoid commodity and food waste as well as improve product quality and reduce costs.
NIR spectroscopy is an example of a rapid method that can be used for food control and the detection of food fraud. With NIRS, you can take a “broad fingerprint” of a food production continuously and compare it with the quality goal. If there are deviations from normal production, you can investigate the matter at an early stage and thus often prevent the batch in question from going to waste or avoid a lesser product with a lower value.
UCPH FOOD conducts research in food processing using microbiology, including fermentation, and has an entire section working with microbiological processes used in food production – from sausages, to baking to beer, dairy and wine production. The research topics vary and range from dealing with how to coat healthy bacteria that can be used as medicine so that they are triggered at the optimal time in our digestive system to how to increase the value of Danish apple orchards by finding new types of yeast for high quality cider.
We research the processing of milk, cheese and other dairy products, including the microbial processes that help form the milk-based foods. Within this field we also research textures, proteins, the utilisation of side streams, food safety, stability, browning effect (Maillard reactions) and shelf life.
Our research is based on a professional knowledge of the products produced by the food and biotech industries, as well as a chemical and biochemical knowledge of the reactions that occur in plants, meat and milk, both before, during and after processing. In addition, there is our knowledge about the interaction between people and food.
In addition to a variety of advanced analytical methods, laboratories and equipment, we also have three pilot plants where we study and test the effect of our research on different food matrices.
In our pilot dairy we are experimenting with a wide range of dairy products, including cheese, fermented dairy products like yoghurt, skyr and ice cream as well as a wide range of milk ingredients.
Pilot plant for meat processing
We also have a meat pilot plant facility, which is dedicated to the development and testing of meat-based foods such as charcuterie, minced meat and special cuts.
Finally, we have a pilot brewery, which is used to train master brewers and for developing improved brewing processes, testing new varieties of malt and hops, new fermentation method, new ingredients, including new flavour and aroma components.
In order to test consumer attitudes towards product quality, we have a sensory and consumer science platform – Future Consumer Lab – including a taste panel.
At UCPH FOOD, we are working to improve the processing of food and food ingredients and to make food production – from the farm to the dinner table – an important part of the circular economy. The ambition is to achieve a sustainable and climate-friendly food industry, which at the same time constitutes a reasonable business for those who are employed in the industry, including primary production – e.g. in agriculture, fruit orchards, etc. Research in processing processes that can be part of the circular economy requires a high degree of interdisciplinarity – including both interdisciplinarity among researchers as well as collaborations with many different types of companies. One of the principal ideas is precisely to enable companies to utilise each other’s side streams of raw materials, water or energy based on the principle that the unused resource of the one can be the other’s gold.
UCPH FOOD focuses on improving the quality of primary products/raw materials (e.g. grain, meat and plants), so that we get the best starting material for our food. We have a similar focus on the production of food and food ingredients with the maximum benefit through the least possible processing, where the raw material/starting material is treated as gently as possible to preserve positive ingredients – as well as using as few resources as possible (minimal processing).
The part of a crop or a meat or dairy product that does not contribute positively to our food – the bitter substances for example – is used elsewhere where it can get as high a value as possible. It could be used in animal feed or for other non-food products in companies outside the food industry.
The variety of approaches to research in food production/processing invites collaboration with a wide variety of private companies. This happens, for example, through joint research projects where we help develop the company’s production beyond what the company would be able to manage on its own and where companies strengthen our research with examples from production. We also collaborate with universities at home and abroad as well as with other research departments that, like UCPH FOOD, are part of the food platform at the University of Copenhagen: Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PLEN) and the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS). In addition, we collaborate with a number of departments in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (SUND) and the Faculty of Humanities (HUM).