Supercontinuum lasers to inspire better beer, bread

Sept. 19 (UPI) -- For the first time, researchers have used a supercontinuum laser to analyze whole grains. The laser, powered by state-of-the-art photonic crystal fibers, could help food scientists bake better loafs and brew better beer.

"The supercontinuum laser has made it possible to measure very small objects rapidly and with high energy," Tine Ringsted, a food scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, said in a news release. "A supercontinuum instrument can therefore potentially be used to measure whole grains and thus find grains with, for example, fungal or insect attacks, or to sort grains by baking, health or quality parameters."

The laser can rapidly image and measure individual grains among a field or a single piece of straw. Scientists say the technology could be used to identify dietary fiber beta-glucan among whole grains. Fiber beta-glucan is prized in barley and oats for its health qualities. Studies suggest the fiber helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

For brewers, fiber beta-glucan is an expensive nuisance, as the fiber can clog drains and valves in brewing equipment, as well as encourage cloudiness in the final product. The supercontinuum laser could help brewers source beer-making ingredients with lower levels of fiber beta-glucan.

Researchers have previously measured grains using lasers, but not at such a high-resolution. Less powerful lasers can't probe the interiors of grains with near-infrared wavelengths.

"The supercontinuum laser's collimated light beam with high energy meant that we could measure through the entire barley grain at the information-rich wavelengths," Ringsted said.

Scientists believe the supercontinuum laser can serve in a variety of capacities within the food production system, including analyzing the volatile compounds of various food stuffs -- the gasses responsible for a food's aroma.

"A supercontinuum laser provides even more options for food measurements, so it offers great potential for improving the quality of our food in the future," said Ringsted.

The latest testing of the whole grains using the laser is part of an ongoing project called Light and Food. Researchers published the project's latest results this week in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta.
Brooks Hays


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