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The National Food Imaging Centre: Why is Food Microstructure Important?

The processability, texture, flavour and keeping qualities of food is controlled not just by chemical composition, but also by how the various ingredients are distributed and interact at the nano- and microscopic length scales. Food structures vary enormously from relatively homogenous liquids to complex, multiphase solids containing fats, proteins, polysaccharides, salts and water in the form of fibres, droplets, crystals, glasses or networks. The size, shape and distribution of these structures greatly influence product stability as well as sensory properties and even bio-absorption. Even an apparently homogeneous product such as butter owes its melt-in-the-mouth properties to the presence of ordered fat crystals (Fig. 2). Microscopy techniques have the great benefit of being “direct” enabling scientists to see real food materials.


Figure 2. Confocal scanning laser micrograph of butter showing water droplets (black),
liquid fat (green) and fat crystals (dark rings).