You are at a party, drinking some wine or beer. You have some crackers with cheese, maybe eating some chips. You are social, talking to people you do not know, and you are trying to find out a little bit more about them. ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ ‘I am a Food Scientist.’ …. ‘What does that mean?’
When you were young, you never had any friends who said; ‘’I want to be a food scientist when I grow up!’’ You wanted to become a firefighter, a doctor or police officer. I even wanted to join the circus briefly. To be fair, these occupations all get the cool outfits. Another thing these occupations have in common is that you can imagine what a day on the job could look like. When you hear food science, this gets a lot harder. This is partially because food scientists and technologists are people who can work in very diverse fields and have very different specialities.
Let’s get back to the party. Even though you may have never heard of food science, you are enjoying the fruits of that industry on a daily basis. The wine or beer you are drinking was developed by fermentation processes that have been around since thousands of years BC. Hames, G. (2012). Alcohol in World History (1st ed.). Routledge. But these processes have been adjusted and perfected by brewers and winemakers throughout decades of studying the science behind it. What molecules cause what taste? How are these molecules produced in one process but not in another? And what happens if we introduce new things into the process or change it in general? The answers to these questions can be found in the biology and chemistry that play a big part in the production. It is not just the alcoholic beverages where you will find food scientists and technologists but also the sodas, juices and other beverages that we consume daily. And what about the crackers and cheese? How was that cheese made? There are so many different kinds of cheese and different ways of producing them. Now we know that food scientists try to figure out how to make food products and how to make them taste even better, there still is a lot of work left.
The products have to be packed in the best way possible. We do not want our work to be in vain and end up with products that are spoiling before they get to the people who want to enjoy them. So the aim is to produce products that stay fresh for as long as possible. This means that we have to look at the products themselves but also at the things that happen to the products after they are packed. To explain this, let’s do an experiment. Buy two bananas from a bunch (so we can assume that they have gone trough the same weather conditions and traveled the same route to your store). Put one of the bananas in a zip lock bag on your table and put the other banana next to it. After a few days, you will see that the bananas are ripening in a different pace! They way you store the banana apparently influences the ripening process.
Like humans, fruits and vegetables prefer a particular composition of gasses in the air they breath. We use air that contains about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and some other traces of gasses and particles that are present in the air. We use the oxygen after inhaling the air and get rid of the carbon dioxide we made in our bodies when we exhale. Gislason, S. (2011). Air and Breathing (3rd ed.). Environmed Research Inc.
Fruits and vegetables keep their cells active with the help of oxygen. That means that the regular air we breathe, helps fruits and vegetables to keep doing what they are supposed to be doing; continue the ripening process. However if we take away most of the oxygen, the processes in the fruits and vegetables are slowed down and the ripening process gets delayed.
In the food industry all characteristics of the different foods are analyzed and the packaging material, way of processing, shipping etc. are adjusted to make sure the products have a long shelf life. To make sure this is possible, people with knowledge of engineering and physics are needed. They figure out how to make all of this happen and not just for a few hundred people, but for entire countries full of people.
So far we talked about why the wine and cheese taste good, are packaged and stored in a certain way and that the amount of food produced is meant to feed a very large number of people. But what most of us take for granted when we walk into the grocery store and look at the insane rows and rows of food we can choose from, is that all these products are safe to consume. Throughout the entire food production chain, there are people who are making sure that every thing we can buy is not going to hurt our health. These people make sure there are no stones in our corn, no toxic waste in our soda, no microorganisms in our milk that will make us sick and many many more things we do not think of when we fill up our baskets in the grocery store.
And with all these things to think about, food scientists and technologists also want the food to look good. So to make these things happen, chemists, physicists, biologists, engineers and many more disciplines are involved. Pyke, Magnus Parducci, L. (1981). Food science and technology (3rd ed., p. 304). London: John Murray Publishers Ltd.
So next time when you are at a party and someone tells you ‘’I am a food scientist’’, raise your glass and thank them for the drinks and food you are enjoying at the party!
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|1.||↑||This work is copyrighted by the mentioned creator. The license under which this work may be used can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. For more information on the creator and media, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/inl/|
|2.||↑||Hames, G. (2012). Alcohol in World History (1st ed.). Routledge.|
|3, 5, 6, 7.||↑||This work is copyrighted by the mentioned creator. The license under which this work may be used can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. For more information on the creator and media, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/|
|4.||↑||Gislason, S. (2011). Air and Breathing (3rd ed.). Environmed Research Inc.|
|8.||↑||Pyke, Magnus Parducci, L. (1981). Food science and technology (3rd ed., p. 304). London: John Murray Publishers Ltd.|