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Milk's Molecular Mysteries Mastered

Massey Uni scientist milk molecule research seeks new markets/products for NZ milk powder industry

Work by a young Massey University food engineer could have far reaching effects on New Zealand's lucrative milk powder industry, providing not only a better understanding of process interactions at a molecular level but also leading to new products.

Binh Trinh has been awarded a Technology for Industry Fellowship from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to carry out a three-year research project with Te Rapa-based NZ Milk Products (formerly NZ Dairy Group).

According to NZ Dairy Group milk powder product development manager, Dr Mike Weeks, going back to basics for a better understanding of milk powder's molecular interaction means the company will be able to better structure its processing to affect the end product.

"What looks superficially like a simple process (take milk and dry it to a powder) can be fraught with complexities especially as we try to explore new opportunities for our processes and products," says Dr Weeks.

The changes in thickness of the milk as it is concentrated during drying influence not only how we manufacture our milk powder products but also determine how those products perform for our customers. To explore new product areas it is critical that we understand these impacts. Some of our product is reconstituted into long shelf life products such as sweetened condensed milk, and customers need certainty that the product is going to remain in the can with the best textural properties over its shelf life," he says.

Dr Weeks describes Binh Trinh's doctoral research as the 'icing on the cake', and a valuable part of the company's future plans. "As we move into new product areas, we need to have a complete understanding of how they perform. Although this research is in the very early stages, we are confident that it will be of value in process and product development."

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