Guarding the flavour potential of baked goods is a challenge for food makers preparing frozen -to-microwave and oven foods.
But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US claim to have met the challenge by encapsulating a flavour oil in complex coacervate microcapsules using gelatin and gum arabic.
"Release of the oil from formulations was determined by a simple spectroscopic method based on separation of oil labelled with a lipophilic dye from unaffected particles," report the scientists in the 17 August issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
When heated to 100 C or higher, univesicular microcapsules (prepared with a lower homogenisation rate) released almost all of the encapsulated oil, while multivesicular microcapsules (produced by high homogenization rates) resulted had lesser degrees of release.
When the particles were cooled after releasing their oil content, the oil was re-encapsulated.
The flavour oil being encapsulated was mixed with Nile Red, a lipophilic dye, which could be used to track the release of the oil from the microcapsules in the experiments.
According to the researchers, the release mechanism did not impact the frozen shelf-life of the baked food, and was easily applicable in bulk to the food, without altering the basic production method.
The European frozen market is marked by stiff competition. In the UK's £3.4 billion frozen food market, for example, a recent report from Mintel highlights a fall in the £690 million frozen ready meals market, resulting from competition with chilled ready meals and price promotions on the shelves.
Gains in flavour development, such as the Massachusetts research outlined above, could give certain food makers the edge needed to beat the competition.
This week US food giant Heinz reported continuing sales weakness in western Europe, with the the region damaged by falling demand for its frozen and seafood products. And the UK's Sunday Times newspaper reported that Unilever is about to off load its frozen foods division, where sales have dropped 3.4 per cent over the past year. Unilever has refused to comment about the rumour.