Microbubble stability and applications in food

T.A.M. Rovers

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Aeration of food is considered to be a good method to create a texture and mouthfeel of food products that is liked by the consumer. However, traditional foams are not stable for a prolonged time. Microbubbles are air bubbles covered with a shell that slows down disproportionation significantly and arrests coalescence. Protein stabilized microbubbles are seen as a promising new food ingredient for encapsulation, to replace fat, to create new textures, and to improve sensorial properties of foods. In order to explore the possible functionalities of microbubbles in food systems, a good understanding is required regarding the formation of protein stabilized microbubbles as well as their stability in environments and at conditions encountered in food products. The aim of this research was to investigate the key parameters for applications of microbubbles in food systems. In Chapter 1 an introduction to this topic is given.

In Chapter 2, the effect of the microbubble preparation parameters on the microbubble characteristics, like the microbubble yield, size and stability, was investigated. The protein Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) and the method sonication was used to manufacture the microbubbles. The manufactured number and stability of microbubbles was highest when they were prepared at a pH around 5 to 6, just above the isoelectric point, and at an ionic strength of 1.0 M. This can be related to the protein coverage at the air/water interface of air bubbles formed during sonication. At a pH close to the isoelectric point the BSA molecules is in its native configuration. Also the repulsion between the proteins is minimized at these pH values and ionic strength. Both the native configuration and the limited repulsion between the proteins result in an optimal protein coverage during the first part of sonication. Also a high protein concentration contributes to a higher surface coverage. The surface coverage is proportional to the protein concentration up to a concentration of 7.5% after which an increase in protein concentration did not lead to a substantial increase in the number of microbubble . In the second part of sonication the protein layer around the air bubble becomes thicker and stronger by heat induced protein-protein interactions. We found that and at a preheating temperature of 55-60°C, about 5 °C below the BSA denaturation temperature, and a final solution temperature of 60-65°C most microbubbles were obtained, while at higher temperatures mainly protein aggregates and (almost) no microbubbles are formed. This suggests that at temperature of around 60°C to 65°C protein aggregated mostly at the air-water interface creating a multi-layered shell, while at higher temperature, they also aggregated in bulk. These aggregates cannot form microbubbles. We found that optimal preparation parameters strongly depend on the protein batch. We hypothesize that the differences in microbubble formation between the protein batches is due to (small) differences in the protein molecular and denaturation properties that determine the temperature at which the molecules start to interact at the air-water interface. Microbubbles made with different protein concentration and preheating temperatures shrunk in time to a radius between 300 nm and 350 nm, after which the size remained constant during further storage. We argue that the driving force for the shrinkage was the Laplace pressure, resulting in an air flux from the bubbles to the solution. We argue that the constant final size can be explained by a thickening of the microbubble shell as a result of the microbubble shrinkage, thereby withstanding the Laplace pressure.

In Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, microbubble stability at environments and conditions representative for food products were studies. In Chapter 3 we investigated the stability upon addition of surfactants and acid, When surfactants or acid were added, the microbubbles disappeared in three subsequent steps. The release of air from the microbubble can be well described with the two-parameter Weibull process. This suggests two processes are responsible for the release of air: 1) a shell-weakening process and 2) a random fracture of the weakened shell. After the air has been released from the microbubble the third process is identified in the microbubble disintegration: 3) the shell disintegrated completely into nanometer-sized particles. The probability of fracture was exponentially proportional to the concentration of acid and surfactant, meaning that a lower average breaking time and a higher decay rate were observed at higher surfactant or acid concentrations. For different surfactants, different decay rates were found. The disintegration of the shell into monomeric proteins upon addition of acid or surfactants shows that the interactions in the shell are non-covalent and most probably hydrophobic. After surfactant addition, there was a significant time gap between complete microbubble decay (release of air) and complete shell disintegration, while after acid addition the time at which the complete disintegration of the shell was observed coincided with the time of complete microbubble decay.

In Chapter 4 the stability of the microbubbles upon pressure treatment, upon fast cooling after heating and at different storage temperatures was studied. The microbubble stability significantly decreased when microbubbles were pressurized above 1 bar overpressure for 15 seconds or heated above 50°C for 2 minutes. Above those pressures the microbubbles became unstable by buckling. Buckling occurred above a critical pressure. This critical pressure is determined by the shell elastic modulus, the thickness of the shell, and the size of the microbubble. Addition of crosslinkers like glutaraldehyde and tannic acid increased the shell elastic modulus. It was shown that microbubbles were stable against all tested temperatures (up to 120°C) and overpressures (4.7 bar) after they were reinforced by crosslinkers. From the average breaking time at different storage temperatures, we deduced that the activation energy to rupture molecular bonds in the microbubbles shell is 27 kT.

In Chapter 5, we investigated the effect of microbubbles on the rheological, tribological sensorial properties of model food systems and we compared this effect to the effect on food systems with emulsion droplets and without an added colloid. We investigated the effect in three model food systems, namely fluids with and without added thickener and a mixed gelatine-agar gel. In a sensory test panellists were asked whether they could discriminate between samples containing microbubbles, emulsion droplets or no added colloid. Emulsions could be sensorially well distinguished from the other two samples, while the microbubble dispersion could not be discriminated from the protein solution. Thus, we concluded that at a volume fraction of 5% of these BSA covered microbubbles were not comparable to oil-in-water emulsions. The good discrimination of emulsion might be ascribed to the fact that emulsion had a lower friction force (measured at shear rates form 10 mm/s to 80 mm/s) than that microbubbles dispersions and protein solutions. Upon mixing emulsions and microbubble dispersions the friction value approximated that of emulsions. This effect was already noticed at only 1.25% (v/v) oil, indicating that microbubbles had not a significant contributions to the friction of these samples. Also microbubble dispersions with and without protein aggregates were compared. The microbubble dispersions with and without thickener containing protein aggregates had a higher viscosity than the those samples without protein aggregates. Protein aggregates in the gelled microbubble sample yielded a higher Young’s modulus and fracture stress. The differences between the gelled samples could be well perceived by the panellists. We attribute this mainly to the fracture properties of the gel. In general we concluded that microbubbles, given their size of ~ 1 mm and volume fraction of  5%, did not contribute to a specific mouthfeel.

Finally in Chapter 6, the results presented in the previous chapters are discussed and put in perspective of the general knowledge on microbubbles production, stability, and applications in food. We described the main mechanisms leading to microbubble formation and stability. We showed that the production parameters significantly influence the interactions in the microbubble shell, and the those interactions highly determine the stability of the microbubbles under several conditions. We reported about limitations of sonication as a method to produce microbubbles suitable for food applications and we provided some ways to overcome these limitations.  The use of microbubbles in food systems has been explored and we clearly see possible applications for microbubbles in food. We reported about directions for possible further research.

In this work we made significant progress in understanding the interactions in the microbubble shell and their relation to microbubble stability. We also advanced in comprehension towards possible applications of microbubbles in food.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van der Linden, Erik, Promotor
  • Meinders, Marcel, Co-promotor
  • Sala, Guido, Co-promotor
Award date16 Oct 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462574755
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • microbubbles
  • protein
  • stability
  • characterization
  • food
  • food additives
  • surfactants
  • acid treatment
  • rheological properties
  • sensory evaluation
  • tribology
  • pressure
  • heating
  • cooling

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