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Chemical engineering team publishes food flow research

Vivek Sharma

The average person may not have heard of rheology, which is the study of the flow of liquids and solids, but its impact on everyday life can be felt when you take a bite of food, repaint your living room, or use cosmetics.

The field of research is particularly important when it comes to food development and production, where different chemicals and elements can mean the difference between a bite that melts in your mouth or a milkshake so solid it cannot be sucked up with a straw.

UIC Chemical Engineering Department Associate Professor Vivek Sharma and his PhD students Carina D. V. Martínez Narváez and Leidy Nallely Jimenez recently published a paper where they characterized the influence of salt on flow behavior in the food thickener cellulose gum. The work was published in a paper appearing in Physics of Fluids.

The research from the Soft Matter ODES-lab was also published as part of a special topic on food and fluids in the journal.

Cellulose gum is a polysaccharide frequently used as a thickener or rheology modifier in many foods, according to the researchers. The rheology response influences the production and processing of food, and the bioprocessing that begins with each bite.

“Even though the influence of polysaccharides on shear rheology response is fairly well characterized and utilized in the food industry, elucidating, measuring, and harnessing the extensional rheology response have remained longstanding challenges and are addressed this study,” Sharma said.

He added this work addresses the extensional rheology and pinch-off dynamics characterization challenges using dripping-onto-substrate rheometry protocols that use analysis of capillary-driven thinning and breakup of liquid necks created by releasing a finite volume of fluid onto a substrate. The researchers tested this by dripping sauce from a ladle.

“We show that adding glycerol or changing salt concentration can be used for tuning the pinch-off dynamics, extensional rheology response, and processability of unentangled solutions of cellulose gum, whereas entangled solutions are relatively insensitive,” the researchers concluded.