The human body is, without a doubt, a marvelous machine. We haven’t yet unraveled all the mysteries surrounding our body, but we continue to discover amazing details about our senses: did you know that the membrane covering cells in fruit juices can “hide” the taste from our taste receptors partially? Incredible but true! Fortunately, we have learned to fully regain “our taste” through a mechanical process, without the addition of additives or chemical flavors. Just a simple and natural taste!
Juices, nectars, and drinks made from rice, nuts, grains, and soy are all products that have been homogenized. However, the reasons to use the homogenization process for beverages vary. Some of these products are emulsions and, when homogenized, reap a series of benefits. Others are suspensions that improve when they are homogenized. Still, others are somewhere in between a suspension and emulsion.
To clarify the above concept, by emulsion, we mean the union of two liquids that do not dissolve, or almost, naturally (e.g., oil poured into water). In this situation, it’s essential to enhance the dispersion of the denser liquid to stabilize the solution (called an emulsion). By suspension, we mean the mix of a solid product in a liquid, such as fruit pulp in juices, which requires a fragmentation process to have the solid part completely dispersed in the liquid.
There are up to nine advantages that the homogenization process can bring to the quality of beverages.
For juices and nectars, these benefits are:
1 – Reduction of sedimentation and separation
One of the main purposes of homogenization is the micronization of the product’s particles to reduce both the larger and smaller particles. The primary benefit derived from this process is less sedimentation of these particles and reduced product separation, which, in the food sector, are perceived by consumers as unsightly and unacceptable. Perceptually, the product will be devoid of those clearer parts on the surface and those heavier ones at the bottom, making it more uniform and pleasant to both the eye and palate. A significant improvement considering it can be achieved with just a physical process.
2 – Bioavailability
Research on tomatoes and carrots has shown that homogenization increases the disintegration of their cellular particles. These fruit cells have sizes ranging from about 500 µm, and the cavity inside the homogenization valves of the homogenizer can reach up to about 100 µm. As a result, when these cells pass through the cavity, they break apart. During this rupture, these cells release intracellular material into the juice. The outcome is an increased bioavailability of nutrients such as lycopene (a red pigment) and beta-carotene (a red-orange pigment, a type of vitamin A). In this case, the improvement is in the amount of nutrients made available to our body in less time: it means that the digestibility of the product has increased, and the benefits of the nutrients begin much earlier than consuming the product in chunks or whole form.
3 – High Viscosity
Some fruits and vegetables, like oranges and tomatoes, naturally contain a stabilizer called pectin. When the cells of fruits and vegetables are homogenized, they break down and release the pectin into the juice, increasing its viscosity and stability. In practice, this provides greater resistance to chemical alterations (for example, extending the preservation period) and stabilizes organoleptic characteristics (for instance, a fruit juice maintains its taste and flavors over time).
4. Improved Flavor
Many flavors are contained within plant cells. Through homogenization, these flavors can also be released and made available, resulting in a significant improvement in the perceived taste of various plant juices. Surprisingly, this taste enhancement can be achieved without adding chemical flavors.
5 – Enhanced Color
Smaller particles scatter light differently than larger ones. Therefore, a homogenized beverage appears more colorful than a non-homogenized one. As a result, the homogenized drink has a more consistent color that is more appealing to consumers. And this is achieved without the addition of chemical or natural colorants.
6 – Improved Brix
The sugar content in juices is measured in Brix degrees. Homogenization can help a low Brix product increase the number of intermolecular bonds between particles and be sweeter and more flavorful for the consumer. This advantage assists producers as they can use fewer sweeteners to achieve the same result. Definitely good news for body shape and health! For beverages made from rice, nuts, cereals, and soy, the main effects of homogenization are as follows:
7. and 8 – Emulsion and Suspension
Often, in oat-based beverages, manufacturers want the product to resemble cow’s milk in taste and perception. To achieve the desired fat content, a 1.5% rapeseed oil is typically added to the beverage, which essentially turns the product into a fat and water emulsion. At the same time, oat-based beverages contain many large particles, making them a suspension. These features are a dual advantage of homogenization: on one hand, you get a smoother product (by reducing the size of the suspension), and on the other, a product that shows no aesthetic difference (by stabilizing the oil and water emulsion). In short: double work, double effort, double benefit!
9 – Reduced “Chalkiness”
Those born in the 1970s will remember the antibiotic syrups mothers gave to sick children: these syrups were sold in powder form and then had to be dissolved by adding water. In the end, the result was a compound that tasted like chalk. Larger particles in rice, nuts, cereals, and soy-based beverages cause the so-called “chalkiness”, a dry and granular sensation in the mouth. By reducing the number of particles larger than 150 µm, homogenization improves the texture.
You will never stop discovering the countless benefits that homogenization will have on products. For beverages, a simple mechanical process like homogenization brings numerous advantages that enhance their qualitative, aesthetic, organoleptic, and nutritional characteristics.
Lastly, a brief note: it is often said that industrial products are not genuine and are full of “chemical junk”. Without delving too deep, we would like to support those industrial processes that cannot be achieved with household appliances. Homogenization is one of these processes to our exclusive advantage: without adding any chemicals, homogenization promotes the release of all the nutritional and organoleptic potential naturally present in many foods.