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What Is Food Science All About?

Food science is all around us. The result is the food and drinks we buy and consume every day. 

For example, corn didn’t exist as the vegetable we know today thousands of years ago. Despite how vital it is to many modern societies, it was once a mystery. In Southwestern Mexico, many years ago, the people living there found a wild grass that grew ears of corn smaller than your pinky finger.

However, through the use of food science, that crop slowly turned into the domesticated one we have today that feeds billions of people and livestock and is an essential ingredient for many of the products we enjoy.

Let’s start by defining food science.

What Is Food Science?

If you don’t want to read a lengthy, sciency definition, food science means using scientific principles to create and maintain a safe, wholesome food supply for the world.

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Let’s break that down.

The field of food science involves different disciplines, including biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and nutrition.

The goal is to solve problems associated with the food system through scientific knowledge. The basics lie in understanding the makeup of food components, like carbs, fats, water, proteins, and the reactions they go through during processing and storage.

It’s relatively new as an official science discipline, and food science mainly came out as a way to respond to the social changes across the developed world. As the food industry has to respond to market demands for convenient, refined, and sustainable products, food science becomes more prevalent.

Types of Food Science

Food scientists work in a variety of roles, including:

Food Microbiology

This food science is a study of how different organisms interact with food and focuses on things like bacteria, molds, fungi, yeast, and viruses. Without food microbiology, we wouldn’t have researchers finding new ways to reduce or stop the harmful growth of microorganisms in our food.

Food Processing and Engineering

Food science also finds ways to process food to get the best flavor and shelf life while remaining nutritious and sage. For example, we now use high-pressure processing in the vegetable and fruit juice industries. The process allows manufacturers to produce juice without damaging it with thermal treatments, giving us the same nutritional value, taste, and texture that we’re used to having.

Food Chemistry and Biochemistry

Almost all foods are biochemicals — their raw ingredients were living plants or animals. Understanding the chemistry of food allows food science to create new products. For example, look at disaccharide lactose enzymes; food scientists added them to milk, cutting the product into two individual components (glucose and galactose) to make it more digestible.

That alone opened up a spectrum of products for lactose-intolerant people. However, that specific enzyme can’t survive some processing techniques, leaving food scientists knowledgeable about biochemistry to help develop ways to safely create lactose-free products.

 Baby tomato plants sprouting

Nutrition

Nutrition is a growing branch of food science, where researchers work to develop food products that taste great but are lower in calories than current options. Doing so requires food scientists to understand the biological effects of functional and nutraceutical foods. Food science gives us bioactive compounds to use in new products to improve their nutrition while remaining tasty, safe, and sustainable.

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Benefits of Food Science

From time to time, food scientists have been called meddlers and accused of creating unnatural foods. Yet, in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The world’s health and well-being depends on high-quality food being readily available and easily accessible. How can you feed billions of people and ensure the quality and safety of the food they eat without food science? You can’t.

And how do we know how the food we eat affects our health, whether for better or worse? The answer is food science. What about helping companies create new products designed for optimal nutrition? Or maintaining security and sustainability for the world’s future food supply? Again, it’s food science.

Food science is responsible for the things we enjoy every day, like:

  • Frozen foods
  • Microwave meals
  • Canned foods
  • Shelf-stable dairy products
  • Nutritious new foods
  • Snacks
  • Food that are easier to prepare
  • The option for variety in our diet

Food Security & Food Choice

Food security doesn’t stop at the farm gate — there’s much more to ensuring food security than growing more food. With the supply chain leading from farm to fork, food scientists and technologists play a vital role in converting raw produce into products ready for us to eat.

One goal of food science is to convert as much of that produce into wholesome food products with minimal waste and energy consumption throughout processing, packaging, and distribution.

Additionally, producing healthy, wholesome foods is of little benefit if people don’t choose to eat them. Food science not only provides us with sustainable and healthy food, but it also makes them palatable so we can enjoy our meals.

Health

While there’s an increasing demand for convenient food, like bags of salad and ready-to-eat meals to fit into our busy lives, we’re more aware than ever of the risks of consuming too much saturated and trans fats, sodium, etc.

Food science helps find that difficult balance between reducing the level of those compounds while ensuring that the food is still fresh, tasty, and sustainable. 

For example, trans fats play a crucial role in maintaining food texture, but many countries are reducing trans fats in their foods due to concerns about too much of it in peoples’ diets. So, food science stepped to the rescue with alternative formulations, like increasing saturated fat and using alternative processing methods to achieve the same textures we know and like.

And while the food industry continues trying to reduce salt levels, it’s used for more than taste — salt lowers water activity to prevent spoilage and is used in bread to increase dough stability. Food science addresses these issues.

Food scientists continually research to gain an understanding about how food products impact everything in our lives and work hard to formulate new products to give us a sustainable, healthy, and delicious future.

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