Prepared Foods September 19, 2005 eNewsletter

Australian scientists have altered the makeup of milk with high-frequency sound waves in a breakthrough expected to slash manufacturing costs and create new products.

The findings by a Melbourne-based team could deliver big savings for the industry and open new export markets.

Researchers have found that high-frequency sound waves can change the size and shape of molecules in milk and are investigating whether the technology can also change milk proteins.

"The technology can actually be used to improve processing efficiency, delivering cheaper, faster and safer dairy processing," Dairy Australia's Phillip Marzella said. "It could reduce costs 20% to 70%. Clearly, it would have large impacts on manufacturing operations."

Marzella said milk was filtered through a membrane during manufacture, and changing the structure of milk could substantially cut the amount of fouling in that membrane. The research is supported by Dairy Australia, the industry's research and development body, and dairy companies through the Dairy Ingredients Group of Australia.

It is being conducted by Food Science Australia at Werribee, in Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne's Particulate Fluids Processing Centre.

Research team leader Muthupandian Ashokkumar said passing ultrasound through a liquid generates chemical and physical interactions, beginning with micro-bubbles that swell, burst and leave localized areas of heat. Ultrasound also generates reactions between the liquid's atoms and molecules.

"The process has great potential for manipulating the structures of molecules and the chemical interactions that occur in liquids," Ashokkumar said. "By harnessing this technology to modulate the heat stability of dairy proteins, we hope to significantly reduce costs.

"The findings could also be used on a range of liquids and could be used for the medical and cosmetics industries."

Marzella said the technology opened up possibilities for developing new dairy products with health benefits.

"That could be applied to specialized children's diets, diets for the elderly, for people with illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, heart disease or cancer.

"The industry is already producing products -- such as lactofarin, which is a protein from milk -- which can boost your immune system.

"That's a product on the market, but (with the ultrasound technology) you could have a better form of lactofarin or a more specialized form of it."

New products could be developed using the technology within two or three years, Marzella said.