The "creaming reaction," a general thickening of the molten cheese mass during the manufacture of processed cheese, which is often seen to occur in a stepwise fashion, affects the viscosity and texture of the finished product. Thus, this phenomenon is of critical importance for the processed cheese industry, yet mechanisms underlying the structure formation in this surprisingly complex and dynamic food system are only poorly understood. Using a model system consisting of micellar casein concentrate, vegetable oil, water, and a mixture of melting salts, we followed the characteristic viscosity profile with its primary and secondary increase over time. A rheometer equipped with a custom-made cup geometry was used, which served as a mini-reaction vessel to simulate the conditions during the manufacture of processed cheese. The mixture was subjected to constant heat (90°C) and stirring (7.93 rpm), comparable to processed cheese cooking, for up to 410 min. At specific time points, samples were taken, and the micro- and ultrastructure was investigated with light and transmission electron microscopy. Results from our extensive study uncovered the following key steps: (1) a decrease in fat globule size with concomitant increase in the number of fat globules, which were also more evenly distributed; (2) a progressive separation of the casein matrix into fibrillogenic and nonfibrillogenic fractions; (3) formation of fibrils and their higher-order structuring followed by their partial degradation; and (4) increasing interactions of the fibrils with the fat globule surface leading to a higher degree of emulsification. Of these different observations, results indicate that after the caseins dissociated under the influence of the melting salts, protein-protein interactions were the primary driver of the structure formation and thus contributed to the initial viscosity increase. Fat globules were involved in the structure formation at later time points. Therefore, fat-protein interactions in addition to continued protein-protein interactions were assumed to contribute to the secondary viscosity increase. An updated processed cheese creaming model is presented. The use of the term "texturization" instead of "creaming" is proposed.
J Dairy Sci (Journal of dairy science)
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