Ultrasound could improve the efficiency of industrial baking

Engineers researching how ultrasound could be used to improve industrial baking have received £500,000 in government funding to commercialise the technology.

According to the researchers at Heriot-Watt University, the technique could reduce the processing time and therefore the energy usage of baking, reduce wastage and improve the texture of products in the growing gluten-free market.

Although they wouldn’t reveal how the technology worked, they said that applying ultrasonic waves to baking dough helped to regulate its energy and mass balance to prevent pockets of air forming and to develop the structure of the dough to ensure it didn’t collapse.

Research leader Dr Carmen Torres-Sánchez told The Engineer that the technique would enable bakers to develop products that met current demand for specific ingredients but that otherwise would be aesthetically or texturally unattractive.

‘There is a lot of pressure on bakers to reduce salt content and that can affect production, causing an imbalance in osmotic pressure so that the dough becomes very sticky,’ she said.

‘The gluten-free market is growing at around 20 per cent a year, but without gluten products can collapse and look bad. We can use this technology to tailor the texture of products.’

The technique, which has been researched through several feasibility studies, is based on methods usually used to control the porosity of industrial materials such as foaming polymer.

‘The big question now is how to scale up the technology,’ said Torres-Sánchez. ‘We’ve been doing semi-continuous batches; now we need to use it continuously, producing up to 1,000 loaves in 30 minutes.’

The team also needs to research how the energy-saving aspect of the technique works, assessing whether it can reduce energy usage proportionally as it is scaled up.

Torres-Sánchez hopes the project will yield ovens and other bakery equipment that has the ultrasonic technology embedded in it so it can easily be applied as the food is cooked.

Funding from the Technology Strategy Board will support the 25-month project, led by food ingredient manufacturer Macphie of Glenbervie and involving Piezo Composite Transducers, Mono Bakery Equipment and Fosters Bakery.