Steam Infusion Food Processing

The University of Lincoln is undertaking cutting edge research into Steam Infusion as part of a collaborative Research and Development project aimed at providing safe and healthy foods funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board (TSB) under the Nutrition for Life initiative.

Steam Infusion is a unique cooking process whereby food products are heated and mixed near instantaneously in a partial vacuum using steam. Steam Infusion is faster and more efficient than traditional methods of food processing such as steam heated vessels and steam injection and the process appears to have a number of profound effects on both taste and flavour, potentially enabling the production of healthier foods.

The unique Steam Infusion environment has been found to increase the flavour profile of food products in commercial trials indicating salt and other ingredients can be reduced without having a negative impact on flavour. The project seeks to provide the scientific understanding of the level and nature of the changes brought about by the steam infusion process and the nutritional advantage to be gained.  In summary the Steam Infusion Nutrition for Life project aims to:

  1. Gain a full scientific understanding of the operating envelope of Steam Infusion and to optimise its operation based on the ingredients or type or ingredients to gain nutritional advantage, e.g. salt and fat reduction, and to minimise production time
  2. Research and develop a methodology that identifies the parameters that drive key product characteristics and resultant nutritional impact
  3. Use knowledge gained to rank existing products in terms of potential nutritional and monetary savings
  4. Use knowledge gained to model and develop a new generation of products and processes to unlock exciting new food opportunities not possible utilising current food process technologies.

Trials and scientific research will be undertaken at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at the University’s Holbeach Campus where a Steam Infusion system has been installed in the food factory process area. The project is being undertaken in partnership with:

  • OAL Group, Lead Organisation and suppliers of the Steam Infusion technology
  • A key supplier of own label foods into the major supermarkets.

The project partners bring shared expertise to maximise the opportunities for transforming the nutritional attributes of cooked food and assisting the further development and application of the technology to advance the UK’s Food Industry. 

The UK chilled soups and sauces sector is worth over £186 million (Kantar) while the chilled ready meal market where cooked sauces are an important element is valued at over £2 billion. Cooking processes are also used in a number of other significant market sectors, e.g. in desserts with fresh custard and frozen ready meals. The chilled foods market is expected to grow in the UK with some sources predicting growth of up to 25% (Source: Key Note) with the employers’ organisation, the Food and Drink Federation recognising the importance of the chilled foods sector in achieving the sectors ambition of sustained growth of 20% by 2020 (Source: FDF 2020 Vision)   

The project which began in March 2014 is a 2-year project and it is expected that progress from the early stages of the project will be reported to interested parties in the autumn of 2014. The date of the first dissemination event will be confirmed shortly.

Michael Dudbridge is the Principal Investigator working on the project for the University mdudbridge@lincoln.ac.uk   

National Centre for Food Manufacturing, Holbeach Campus, Park Road, Holbeach, Spalding, PE12 7PT
email: ncfm@lincoln.ac.uk
tel: + 44 (0)1406 493000
fax: + 44 (0)1406 493030