Photo: CC--DoNotLickCeliac.com 01/06/2012 - The same ultrasound technology that helps doctors and expectant parents to view a developing baby might soon literally mean a better gluten-free bun in the oven.

That's because engineers researching how ultrasound could be used to improve industrial baking have received a UK government grant of £500,000 (about $725,000 U.S. dollars) to commercialize their technology.

The grant from the Technology Strategy Board will support the 25-month project,which will be led by food ingredient manufacturer Macphie of Glenbervie and involve Piezo Composite Transducers, Mono Bakery Equipment and Fosters Bakery.

The engineers, based at Heriot-Watt University, say their technique reduces processing time and improves energy usage, reduces wastage and improves the texture of gluten-free products.

They declined to give details about the exact nature of their technology, and how it worked. However, they did say that ultrasonic waves helped baking dough to regulate its energy and mass balance, which prevents air pockets from forming and helped protect the structure of the dough against collapse.

Research leader Dr Carmen Torres-Sánchez said that the technology would allow bakers to create products that met current demand for specific ingredients, but which would be much more aesthetically or texturally attractive.

For example, she said, ‘[t]here is a lot of pressure on bakers to reduce salt content and that can affect production, causing an imbalance in osmotic pressure so that the dough becomes very sticky…without gluten, products can collapse and look bad. We can use this technology to tailor the texture of products.’

The lab has researched and developed the technique through several feasibility studies. It is based on methods usually used to control the porosity of industrial materials such as foaming polymer.

‘The big question now is how to scale up the technology,’ said Torres-Sánchez. ‘We’ve been doing semi-continuous batches; now we need to use it continuously, producing up to 1,000 loaves in 30 minutes.’

The team also needs to further examine whether the technique can save energy proportionally as it is scaled up. Torres-Sánchez hopes the project will give rise to ovens and other bakery equipment with built-in ultrasonic technology that can easily be controlled as products are baked.

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