The main focus of the work here is on the timely discovery of infestations involving pests, fungal or viral pathogens as well as the development and implementation of regulatory schemes based on these findings. In addition, there are also investigations of horticultural methods to prevent soil erosion before and during potato crops as well as associated efforts to optimise the water consumption efficiency of this crop.
Technical assessment of varieties
The most important raw materials for starches are corn, wheat and potatoes. Each of these raw materials has varieties which are bred to favour their particular growing region. The main focus during the development of new varieties is on agricultural parameters such as yield, resistance to disease and growth, whereby their suitability for extracting starch tends to play a lesser role. In order to be able to assess this characteristic, the varieties are subjected to comparative tests investigating the extractability and the quality of the starch and other components in the raw materials and then taken into account the assessment of the varieties. These investigations are performed at ARIC and the results are then made available to the raw material sourcing departments at AGRANA starch mills.
Starch varieties AND types
Starches consist of amylose and amylopectin, whereby the majority of starch varieties consist of 25% amylose and 75% amylopectin. Amylose is a linear biopolymer made up of anhydrous glucose molecules which are bound together by alpha 1,4 bonds. In addition to linear bonds, amylopectin also has branches as a result of alpha 1,6 bonds. By means of their supramolecular structure, these components form starch grains of different sizes and shapes depending on the type of starch in question. Given that this structure is formed in layers, a grain of starch consists of crystalline and semi-crystalline regions, as a result of which the type of starch and its botanical origin can be determined under the microscope.
Technical assessments of starch types
Due to their different origins, starch varieties differ on the basis of their composition whereby, in addition to starch as the main component, the other constituents also have an impact on the quality and the properties of the starch, such as their paste viscosity, decomposition temperature, adhesive strength, water retention properties and thickening power. Starches consists of two key constituents: amylose and amylopectin. The ratio between these two components determines how the starch is classified in subcategories. Normal starch varieties generally have an amylose content of around 15% to 25%. Waxy starch varieties consist almost exclusively of amylopectin. High-amylose starches on the other hand have amylose contents of up to 70%. Other minor components which have an influence on starch properties include the concentrations of proteins, ash and fats. These investigations are routinely performed at ARIC and form the basis for the development of new starch-based products for use in the food sector and in technical applications.
In its native form, starch has a granular structure and is only used in this form in very specific technical applications. In the most common applications, starch is modified in a variety of ways either by the manufacturer or by the user. In both cases, the properties of the starch are optimised to reflect the later application.
Starch can also be subjected to fermentation in a sustainable process as a result of which bioethanol is obtained for use as a fuel additive.
Starch modification processes are being constantly optimised, mainly with the aim of reducing the use of chemicals and energy and also to increase the yield of starch products.
There are basically three types of modification based on chemical, physical and enzymatic treatment.
Starch is seldom used in its native, untreated form. It is usually necessary to refine the starch in line with its intended use. In addition to chemical and physical modifications, it is also possible to treat starches using enzymes or a combination of these treatment processes. The chemical modification processes rely on treating the starch with reagents which bond chemical compounds to the starch and lead to a change in the swelling properties, the viscosity, the solubility, the hydrophobicity and/or the adhesive power of the starch. Physical processes mainly relate to subjecting starches to pressure and temperature in the presence or absence of water. These primarily lead to a change in the tertiary structure of starch grains as a result of which the swelling properties of the starch change even at low temperatures. All of the abovementioned processes can be performed at ARIC on a laboratory or pilot scale with volumes from just a few grams up to 100 kilograms. This makes it possible to test product developments on a small scale before they are scaled up to production volumes.
The production of organic ethanol through alcoholic fermentation is a sustainable way of producing fuel.
The manufacture of bioethanol by means of fermenting alcohol is a sustainable means of producing fuel. This involves converting starch-rich raw materials such as wheat or corn into alcohol with the aid of yeast cells. The continual optimisation of the process conditions is a particularly important aspect of our research work.
We currently have one 30-litre and two 3-litre bioreactors available for these laboratory experiments. A 300-litre fermenter means we have a full range of scale-up options.
Many years of experience guarantee rapid and successful upscaling into production.
Using the facilities of the laboratory and the technical centre, we optimise the efficiency of chemical, physical and enzymatic reactions as well as the effectiveness of technical processes. The main focus here lies on high implementation rates and capacity utilisation while at the same time maintaining quality standards. Many years of experience guarantee swift and successful up-scaling for large-scale production.
SPREADS AND CREAMS
AGRANA starches provide wholesome spreads and creams with a full-flavoured and creamy texture and also act as stabilisers in food products. The research activities and developments at ARIC concentrate in particular on food trends such as calorie reduction, replacing palm oil and on vegan and organic nutrition. Hot and cold processes are developed so that ready-to-eat spreads with excellent texture and taste properties can be easily and swiftly produced using AGRANA’s organic starches.
BAKERY PRODUCTS AND CONFECTIONARY
As a result of the extensive equipment available in ARICs food testing laboratory, production processes for bakery products and confectionery can be realistically simulated in terms of baking technologies. When it comes to bread and bakery products, properties such as mouthfeel, moisture and crumbliness can be positively influenced by using various AGRANA products. In the case of pastry products, we are working to develop solutions to current challenges posed by consumer demands for vegan and gluten-free products. In the area of confectionery products, ARIC is continuously researching product solutions for fillings and coatings, concentrating in particular on sugar and fat reduction as well as improved processability.
MEAT AND MEAT PRODUCTS
AGRANA’s product portfolio also includes various products for use in meat and meat products which have been tested and are continuously subjected to further development in various formulations by means of extensive application tests. ARIC developments lead to improvements in terms of texture and consistency, promote shelf-life and enhance water retention in sausage products, ground meat products and cooked meats. Ongoing research work on existing and newly developed products make it possible to offer customers application-oriented concepts as solutions.
GUM AND GELLING PRODUCTS
Product characteristics such as elasticity, firmness and transparency are important quality parameters which can be achieved by means of AGRANA’s gum and gelling products. Special starch-based developments make it possible to manufacture vegetarian and vegan products without animal gelatine. In addition, AGRANA’s starch-based saccharification products are also suitable for use in organic vegan gum and gelling products. By means of the semi-industrial manufacturing processes established at ARIC, it is also possible to optimise formulations and process parameters. ARICs expertise can also be relied on to resolve specific issues related to technical matters.
SOUPS, SAUCES & DRESSINGS
Starches play an important role in products such as salad dressings, instant soups and emulsion sauces as well as contributing significantly to product stability and texture. Starches for these applications need to be particularly stable so that they retain their functional properties during the complex manufacturing processes. That’s why ARIC develops solutions for acid and shearing-resistant as well as highly stable starches and optimisations related to improved process stability. As a result, a wide application area exists for AGRANA’s modified starches, maltodextrins and for potato fibres as a means of dietary fibre enrichment.
In addition to technical application tests and the further development of existing AGRANA products, as a research and development centre ARIC also regularly develops novel products in line with current market developments and customer requirements. Key issues such as organics and clean label, vegan nutrition and meat replacements, sugar reduction and fat-free alternatives as well as high-fibre and protein enrichment also play a central role in the research activities of ARIC. For example, innovations such as Agenovum® and gluten-free Agenovum® were developed at ARIC as egg replacement products. Developments in the organic starch segment as well as AGRANA’s clean label starch-based innovations also provide attractive alternatives to conventional modified starches.
Starches and starch-based products are also widely used in various technical applications. Starch is used in the paper industry to increase paper strength. Using starch-based products as an adhesive for paper and paper-like materials extends from corrugated board to bag and label adhesives. In the textile industry, the main focus is on sizing and printing while highly modified starch ethers are widely used as an additive in hydraulic bonding agents in the construction industry. Thermoplastic starch in combination with other degradable polyesters make it possible to manufacture biologically degradable plastics such as films. In addition to the applications mentioned above, there are also numerous other application areas, such as flocculating agents, in paints and as bonding agents.
Particulate modified and native starch-based products are added to creams and solutions, sun creams, baby powders, face powders and make-up products among others to give the skin a pleasant, silky rather than oily touch. An important application area for these starches is also in dry hair shampoos and dry shampoo mousses. Starches which swell in water are also used as thickening agents in creams, shampoos and both hair and face-mask products. Starch degradation products such as maltodextrins, dextrins and dry glucose syrups are now also being used as styling polymers in hair mousses.Stärkeabbauprodukte wie Maltodextrine, Dextrine und Trockenglukosesirupe werden neuerdings als Styling Polymere in Haarschaumfestigern eingesetzt.
Starch derivatives also play a special role in tablets as tablet disintegrants. Specially modified starch derivatives provide tablets with excellent tablet hardness, low friability and stable consistency properties. Once moistened, e.g. when ingested, the starches swell rapidly resulting in the tablet disintegrating faster and therefore releasing the active ingredient. Other applications in the pharmaceutical industry involve starches being used in the manufacture of hard and soft capsules as well as high-purity starches as starting materials for the preparation of blood plasma. Cross-linked starch products are also used directly as lubricants for latex products (gloves and condoms).
Animal feeds are important products resulting from the processing of starches and sugar. Wheat bran, corn gluten and potato protein, for example, are excellent sources of protein, while molasses, sugar beet cossettes and corn germ act as sources of energy. High digestibility in animals and the outstanding availability of the nutrients contained are important quality criteria for animal feedstuffs. The laboratory analysis methods developed in-house at ARIC allow us to determine these parameters and classify the various animal feed products manufactured by AGRANA.
Besides starch and potato pulp, the processing of potatoes also yields the liquid phase of the cellular structure which, once thickened, is returned to the farmers as a so-called “Fruit water concentrate” This contains significant amounts of potassium, phosphorous and organically bound nitrogen. Field trials have conclusively demonstrated the high efficacy of this fertiliser. We are firmly committed to the principle of a closed circular economy.
Besides the physical and chemical characterisation of starches, starch derivatives and starch by-products, another focus is on application-based, technological analyses in the various product application areas. Only once the products are used in realistic formulations it can be determined whether these meet AGRANA’s high quality standards.
Starch products are widely used in technical areas, particularly in the paper industry, the construction sector, as components in biologically degradable plastics and also as adhesives. Diverse application areas can also be found in the food sector. These range from bakery and confectionery products, meat products and sweets to delicatessen products. AGRANA products are also used in cosmetics, such as dry hair shampoos and skin creams.
Microbiological analyses are regularly performed in order to maintain the high quality and safety levels of products from AGRANA. This is not only related to quality control of various products, but also to procedures such as
- Hygiene monitoring by means of airborne germ measurements and swabbing procedures
- Testing in production facilities at every step of the production process
- The disinfection procedures of production equipment (heat exchangers, cooling towers, warehouses, etc.)
- Support when hygiene-related problems arise
The microbiological analyses performed rely on standard agar plate procedures as well as molecular biological methods. Besides conventional PCR devices, we also have a digital and a quantitative PCR device available for these tests.
A Safety Level 2 laboratory has been set up for more complex testing requirements. This enables us to work with pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
Our in-house strain collection includes a wide selection of micro-organisms, such as bacteria, yeasts and moulds, which is being constantly expanded. Test strains for fermentation processes and micro-organisms for developing specific seed materials are therefore always available.
In order to perform the growing number of project-related tasks, instrumental analytics has become an important part of our work and is organised centrally as a staff department. This department acts as a point of contact for chemical-analytical questions, method development and validation.
We currently have several HPLC systems with RI, UV/VIS, FLD and CAD available for performing instrumental analytics. In addition, HPLC systems with MS detection are also used to quantitatively determine the presence of mycotoxins. Gas chromatography devices with FID are employed to analyse volatile organic substances. Anions are analysed using IC and the range of analytical options is rounded off by elemental analytics based on ICP-OES.
Standard chemical analyses are also performed at ARIC to identify the presence and concentrations of chemical substances. Solid, liquid and gaseous substances are investigated. Depending on the specific focus areas, the Starch (Food & Non-Food) Life Science & Fruit Technology as well as the Sugar Technology departments are equipped with various analytical devices. The equipment consists of different measuring devices for performing the photometric and enzymatic testing of analytes.
Contract analysis can also be performed for third parties. For more details, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The analytical tasting panel at ARIC consists of 35 trained panellists. They work in a professionally equipped tasting room to evaluate sensory properties such as the appearance, odour, taste and texture of AGRANA’s product portfolio as well as finished products manufactured using these as ingredients. The many years of experience based on over 100 sensory tests a year cover the following product categories:
- Fruit Division: fruit snacks, fruit yoghurts, ice creams and chocolate-based products
- Starch Division: bakery products; speciality foods such as sauces, creams and spreads; and cosmetics such as skin creams and lotions
- Sugar Division: the range of organic and normal sugar products such as icing sugar, gelling and syrup sugars as well as caster sugar
The tasting panel therefore plays a central role in successful product and technological development work at AGRANA.