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Better Beer, Bread Thanks to Supercontinuum Lasers

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2017
AUTUM C. PYLANT, NEWS EDITOR, autum.pylant@photonics.com

Most beer is made from four primary ingredients: grains, hops, yeast and water. The basic ingredients for bread are flour, yeast, water and salt. Throw a supercontinuum laser combined with near-IR into the mix and researchers say they can produce better quality beer and healthier bread.

Researchers from Denmark’s University of Copenhagen Department of Food Science and Aarhus University Department of Chemistry are using an NKT Photonics supercontinuum laser at wavelengths from 2260 to 2380 nm to study the content of the dietary fiber beta-glucan in barley seeds. Tine Ringsted, a postdoc at the Department of Food Science, told Photonics Media that the supercontinuum laser is directed into a monochromator for wavelength selection and the selected wavelengths are then focused onto the seed and measured after transmission through the barley seed.

Scientists are using lasers to brew better beer and make healthier bread.

Scientists are using lasers to brew better beer and make healthier bread. Courtesy of Pixabay.

“The measurement of single seeds gives new possibilities in food production because with such a technology you can get information about the natural variation that exists between seeds,” said Ringsted. “This knowledge can be used to sort seeds so that seeds with a low beta-glucan content can be used to make good beer, and seeds with a high beta-glucan content can be used to make healthy bread.”

Ringsted and other researchers at the Department of Food Science are participating in the Innovation Fund Denmark project titled Light & Food. The project investigates the analysis of food via a supercontinuum laser with photonic crystal fibers. The laser is brighter than traditional light sources used in spectroscopy and has the potential to shine through different foods, providing accurate information about the content. It does so by combining the collimated beam seen in a laser with a wide range of wavelengths.

“The supercontinuum laser has made it possible to measure very small objects rapidly and with high energy,” said Ringsted.

A supercontinuum laser entering a glass prism, which separates the wavelengths and produces a rainbow of colors.

A supercontinuum laser entering a glass prism, which separates the wavelengths and produces a rainbow of colors. Courtesy of Lene Hundborg Koss.

Potentially, the supercontinuum laser could be used to measure whole grains and detect fungal or insect attacks. It could also be used to sort grains by quality parameters for baking and health.

By measuring each grain, researchers and beer connoisseurs can more accurately observe the variation that naturally exists among grains from the same field and even from the same straw.

“Seed sorting will mean that you can obtain some grains that have health-promoting properties for use in bread, for example, and some grains that are extra good for beer. This will give both products a higher value without doing anything but sorting the grains,” said Ringsted.

The collimated light of the supercontinuum laser allowed Ringsted and fellow researchers to measure barley grain at information-rich wavelengths without chemicals. They were able to predict beta-glucan content from 3 to 16.8 percent.

The researchers found that the supercontinuum laser and near-IR spectroscopy could increase seed quality by fast and nondestructive measurements on other seeds and food as well. But for now, beer, bread and lasers are a pretty good combination of ingredients.

The research has been published in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta (DOI: 10.1016/j.aca.2017.07.008).

Lighter SideeducationResearch & TechnologyEuropelaserslight sourcesNear IRspectroscopyopticssupercontinuum lasersUniversity of CopenhagenDenmarkDepartment of Food ScienceAarhus University Department of ChemistryNKT Photonicsbeta-glucanbeerbreadseedsbarleyInnovation Fund DenmarkLight & FoodTine RingstedAutum Pylant

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