Developing much-needed products from underutilized agricultural materials such as cheese whey is the goal of a new center opened recently by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
The Center of Excellence in Extrusion and Polymer Rheology (CEEPR) has begun operations at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa. Scientists at the center will focus on creating new foods, food ingredients and biodegradable products that have nonfood, industrial or pharmaceutical applications.
Current research projects cover a wide range of products, including snack foods, cheeses, pet foods and meat substitutes.
CEEPR researchers work in a modern pilot plant where new products can be developed from concept to prototype and eventually to full market production through technology transfer collaborations. For example, they develop processed foods and create unique biopolymers with production-scale extruders, and have purchased an injection molding machine to explore new applications for underutilized agricultural materials.
Extrusion is the process of converting raw materials into new forms, and forcing the reformed materials through a restricted opening to create new shapes.
The food industry uses special instrumentation to determine what's called a product's rheology--mainly how it is formed, and how it flows once it is melted. This is important in producing products ranging from gels to aged cheddar cheese, according to Charles Onwulata, a food technologist and the CEEPR coordinator. Food processors must know a product's rheological properties to maintain uniform textures in extruded and molded products.
CEEPR is forming partnerships with industry, other research agencies and universities, and is collaborating with other research units throughout ARS to create new products from materials such as casein milk protein and citrus and apple pectins.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
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