European Space Agency and Nestle study bubbles in zero gravity
Nestlé is seeking the 'perfect' bubble for chocolate, coffee and other food products.
Fri, Jul 06, 2012 at 10:37 AM
Photo: European Space Agency
You can thank space exploration for a wide range of modern technologies and conveniences — everything from memory-foam mattresses to infrared ear thermometers and the DustBuster cordless vacuum.
Soon you could add a better-tasting chocolate mousse to that list.
Swiss conglomerate Nestlé S.A. and the European Space Agency (ESA) recently conducted a series of zero-gravity experiments to create the "perfect" bubble, a spinoff of the ESA's previous space-based research into foam technologies. Air bubbles, according to Nestlé, are added to many food products, such as chocolate mousse and coffee froth, to create a better texture or consistency.
"Stable foam in chocolate mousse gives the feeling of creaminess in the mouth," Dr. Cécile Gehin-Delval, a scientist at the Nestlé Research Center, said in a prepared release. "To make fine coffee froth, we want to create stable little bubbles to make it light and creamy."
Unfortunately for Earth-bound scientists, gravity has a habit of getting in the way of ideal bubble formation and interferes with methods to study them. According to Nestlé, gravity causes the liquid between bubbles to flow downwards, which sends bubbles to the top of the liquid. By experimenting in zero gravity, researchers could see how bubbles behaved when they were evenly distributed instead of floating to the top.
To conduct their experiments, the scientists with Nestlé and ESA recently flew an A300 Airbus plane to a height of 28,000 feet. The plane then made about 30 "parabolas," short up-and-down dips that created weightlessness within the fuselage of the plane. The weightless moments only lasted about 20 seconds each, but that was enough to analyze six 5-milliliter samples of water and milk protein and examine the bubbles within.
Gehin-Delval said the scientists were able to study the stability of the zero-G bubbles, which will help them create a better taste experience and could improve product shelf life.
The European Space Agency carries out parabolic flights like these several times a year, when it conducts zero-G experiments and tests that have applications in numerous scientific and technological fields. It also conducts longer zero-G experiments on board the International Space Station, which will be Nestlé's next stop for bubble research.
Nestlé has been conducting space-based research for its food and healthcare products for more than 25 years.