Effects of homogenization on beverages

 

Human body is, with no doubt, a wonderful machine. We have not yet unraveled all the mysteries concerning our body, but we are still discovering surprising details about our senses: did you know that the membrane that covers the cells in fruit juices can partially “hide” the taste to our taste receptors? Unbelievable but true! Luckily, we have learned how to take “our taste” back fully by means of a mechanical process, without adding additives or chemical flavors. Only a simple and natural taste!

Juices, nectars and beverages from rice, nuts, cereals and soy are all products that have been homogenized. However, the reasons to use homogenizing process for beverages are different. Some of these products are emulsions and, if homogenized, they get a series of benefits. Other products, are suspensions, which get improvements when homogenized. Other products are instead half way through between suspension and emulsion.

To clarify previous concept, by emulsion we mean the union of two liquids that do not melt, or almost, naturally (i.e. oil poured into the water). In this situation, it is necessary to improve the dispersion of the denser liquid to make the solution (called, precisely, emulsion) more stable. On the other hand, by suspension, we mean the mixture of a solid product in a liquid such as, for example,  fruit pulp in juices, which requires a fragmentation process to have the solid part completely dispersed in the liquid.

There are up to nine benefits that the homogenization process can bring to the quality of drinks.

For juices and nectars these benefits are:

1. Decreased sedimentation and separation
One of the main purposes of homogenization, is the micronization of the product particles to have the reduction of both larger and smaller particles. The main advantage coming from this process is a lower sedimentation of these particles and a reduced separation of the product which, in the food sector, are perceived by the consumer as unaesthetical and unacceptable. On a perceptive level, the product will be deprived of those lighter parts on the surface and of the heavier ones on the bottom, looking more homogeneous and pleasant to both the eyes and the palate. A considerable improvement if you think that can be obtained only with a physical process.

2. Bioavailability
Researches on tomatoes and carrots have shown that homogenization will increase the disintegration of their cell particles. These fruits cells are in the size range of about 500 µm, the cavity inside the homogenizing valves of the homogenizer can reach up to about 100 µm. As a result, when these cells pass through the cavity, they break apart. During rupture, these cells release intracellular material into the juice. The result is greater bioavailability of nutrients such as lycopene (red-colored pigment) and beta-carotene (red-orange pigment, a type of vitamin A). In this case, the improvement consists in the amount of nutrients made available to our body in less time: it means that the digestibility of the product is increased and that the benefits of the nutrients begin much earlier than taking the product eaten in bites.

3. High viscosity
Some fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and tomatoes, naturally contain a stabilizer called pectin. When the fruits and vegetables’ cells are homogenized, they break down and release the pectin into the juice, increasing its viscosity and stability. In practice, greater resistance to chemical alterations is given (for example the storage period is extended) and the organoleptic features are stabilized (for example a fruit juice maintains its taste and flavors over time).

4. Improved flavor
Many flavors are contained in plant cells. Through homogenization, even the flavors can be released and made available, with a remarkable improvement in the perceived taste of several vegetable juices. Surprisingly, this taste improvement can be obtained without adding chemical flavors.

5. Improved color
Smaller particles scatter light differently than larger ones. Therefore, a homogenized drink appears to be more colorful than a non-homogenized one. Consequently, the homogenized drink turns out to have a more uniform color that is more attractive to the consumers. And this is achieved with adding no chemical or natural dyes.

6. Better Brix
The sugar content in juices is measured in Brix degrees. Homogenization can help a low Brix product to increase the number of intermolecular bonds between the particles and be sweeter and tastier to the consumer. This benefit helps the manufacturer as it is possible to use fewer sweeteners to achieve the same result. Definitely good news for body line and health!
For rice, nut, grain and soy drinks, the main effects of homogenization are the following:

7. and 8. Emulsion and suspension
Often, in oat-based drinks, manufacturers want the product to resemble cow's milk in flavor and perception. To obtain the desired fat content, a 1.5% rapeseed oil is usually added to the drink, which essentially transforms the product into a fat and water emulsion. At the same time, oat-based drinks contain many large particles, making them a suspension. These features are a double advantage of homogenization: on the one hand a smoother product is obtained (by reducing the size of the suspension), on the other hand, a product that does not present any aesthetical difference (stabilizing the oil and water emulsion). In short: double work, double effort, double benefit!

9. Decreased “chalkyness”
Those born in the 70s of the last century will remember the antibiotic syrups that mothers gave to sick children: those syrups were sold in powder and then had to be dissolved by adding water. Eventually, the result was a compound that tasted like chalk. The larger particles in rice, nut, grain and soy drinks cause the so called "chalkyness", a dry and grainy feeling in the mouth. By decreasing the number of particles larger than 150 µm, homogenization improves the texture.

You will never stop discovering the countless benefits that homogenization will have on products. On beverages, a simple mechanical process such as homogenization brings numerous advantages that increase their quality, aesthetics, organoleptic and nutritional characteristics.

Lastly, a short note: it is often said that industrial products are not genuine and that they are full of "chemical crap". Without getting too deep into that, we would like to support those industrial processes that cannot be achieved with household appliances. Homogenization is one of these processes for our exclusive benefit: with no chemical substances added, homogenization favors the release of the full nutritional and organoleptic potential already naturally present in many foods.