Technology Developed for “Slow Cooking” in Seconds

Technology Developed for “Slow Cooking” in Seconds

14 Feb 2011 --- Developing new techniques that allow food to be kept for longer and that enhance its quality is one of the expertise areas of Food & Biobased Research. High pressure, pulsating electric fields and cold plasma are all examples of technologies in development.

2/14/2011 --- It is not a microwave oven. However, the Nutri-Pulse, developed by IXL Nederland BV in Schalkwijk and Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, may well replace the microwave in our kitchens in the near future. A version of the Nutri-Pulse is already on the market; not for consumers, but for research purposes.

Developing new techniques that allow food to be kept for longer and that enhance its quality is one of the expertise areas of Food & Biobased Research. High pressure, pulsating electric fields and cold plasma are all examples of technologies in development. Using this expertise, Food & Biobased Research and IXL, a company specialising in the development of new technology for the food and other industries, have together developed a new process for cooking food quickly. New textures and tastes are created when cells are electrically broken open while being heated up rapidly. IXL has applied this process in the Nutri-Pulse, which is now becoming available to service caterers, for example. Food & Bio-based Research and IXL are investigating which applications will lead to interesting and new dishes.

At first sight, the Nutri-Pulse resembles a microwave oven. You place the food that is to be prepared in a box-shaped appliance. You close the door and press the button, and in no time the product is ‘done’. But there the resemblance ends. The oven works using microwaves; water molecules in the food function as antennae for the waves, receiving them and converting their energy into heat. In the Nutri-Pulse, something quite different happens. "In the Nutri-Pulse, the food is placed on a tray between two electrodes", the researcher, Ariëtte Matser at Food & Biobased Research said. “It is sometimes useful to add stock to the food. After the machine has been closed, a high-frequency, pulsating electric field is built up between the electrodes. That field cooks the food in record time”.

The Nutri-Pulse technology is so effective that stewed meat is ready in only 4 minutes, compared with the usual 3 to 6 hours. The appearance of the final product is similar to that of another alternative cooking method, the sous-vide, which involves cooking vacuum-packed foods for hours at low temperatures, between 60 and 80°. The resulting products of sous-vide have a better taste and texture than those of ordinary cooking. The Nutri-Pulse gives comparable results, but many times faster. Thanks to this new machine, the chefs at the Wageningen Restaurant of the Future were able to make complex dishes containing fresh ingredients such as chicken, fish and dill, in just a few seconds. "Chefs who purchase this appliance will probably be able to make new dishes.” Matser said. “Those who had worked with the Nutri-Pulse were certainly enthusiastic about the possibilities. This appliance can also help to make food preparation more sustainable. Initial calculations indicate that energy consumption using this technique is 10 times lower than with traditional cooking methods."

IXL and its partner company OMVE took the initiative to develop the Nutri-Pulse. "SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in the Netherlands are innovative and not afraid of new things," Matser remarked. IXL approached Food & Biobased Research because it needed help with the electronics that generate a pulsating field.

Food & Biobased Research collaborates with various companies on technologies such as pulsating electric fields, the most important aspect always being the interaction between the process and the products. At the moment, the research group is investigating potential applications of this technology together with IXL and others, including the head chef from the Wageningen Restaurant of the Future, Johan Verbon, and Jonnie Boer of the restaurant, De Librije, in Zwolle.
 

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