AVEBE—Grand Prize winner of the Food Valley Award 2009 for innovationPublished: 03-02-2014, | Member: Avebe
According to Piet Buwalda, head of R&D Food at AVEBE for the past nine years, “Our goal is to create great taste at an affordable price.” AVEBE provides key ingredients to the food industry. In order to control every step in the development of its ingredients, the company also controls every step in the development of a potato. Its contract farmers produce 4m tons of potatoes every year, and there is constant exploration into new ways to breed and develop seeds. “By having our own farm, we secure quality and supply for at least the next decade.”
These potatoes are used in AVEBE’s state-of-the-art global innovation center, located in Veendam, where more than 25 scientists explore and prepare new derivatives and applications. The company is also supported by two starch factories, one in the Netherlands and one in Germany. AVEBE also has a derivative plant in Sweden for liquid foods. Its main distributor in the U.S. is National Starch.
ETENIA™, a winning product
ETENIA™ is AVEBE’s brand of new, enzymatically treated starch. The introduction of this new starch is one of the main reasons that the company was awarded Food Valley’s Grand Prize. Research showed that this starch can gel in low concentration comparable to hydrocolloids. It is used as texturant in low-fat dairy and bakery products to which it delivers an unexpected, creamy taste. In other applications it used as an efficient gelling agent. Collaboration was key to the development of ETENIA. The product was developed in stages with many key partners including DSM, which participated as co-developer. It is a great story of how collaboration can lead to success. This particular collaboration spanned over 10 years and has proven to be a huge success for all of the partners involved. The development of this new starch has led to more than 10 scientific papers, five patents and great taste for the consumer (with lower fat!).
At the University of Groningen, a special program on the structure of amylase enzymes has been running for decades. AVEBE sponsored a program in which the action of one of the enzymes, amylomaltase, was tested on starch at TNO-Groningen. Two scientists discovered that this enzyme provides a gel in low concentration in water. Why is this so special? Well, it doesn’t degrade the starch; it actually rearranges the starch. “The potato itself uses a similar enzyme to make potato starch,” says Buwalda. “In this way we close the loop and use the potato itself to make potato starch.”
During the next stage of this research, AVEBE, farmers, government and TNO-Groningen conducted further tests to prove that amylomaltase has robustness as well as good taste and applicability. To bring this research to a successful conclusion, however, required input from additional specialists. Together, AVEBE and DSM, a major Dutch life sciences and materials science company, set up the final project that led to ultimate success. Novel technology was applied to design a process for the enzyme as well as for the final starch product. Analytical methods were established and NIZO, a well-known contract research organization for food and ingredients, also joined in the research efforts. A special consumer panel that specializes in assessing taste of yogurt products approved of the product overwhelmingly. While ETENIA has already been used in some specific products, further research on new applications is ongoing.
In another collaborative effort, AVEBE teamed up with the University of Wageningen and WuXi University (China). The company set up a program to study starch fundamentals of sweet potato starch for its functionality in glass noodles. The assumption was that the specific way in which this starch gelatinizes, combined with elevated amylose levels, provides the necessary clarity and elasticity for this highly appreciated noodle. Interestingly, these assumptions were proven to be false, which provided the team with some opportunities to develop an entirely new product which would be even more elastic, with better clarity. The solution was quite simple: sieve out the small granules and use these to make the noodles. “In fact, it was so simple that no one thought of it,” says Buwalda. So, D20 was created. This collaboration led to five publications and a patent as well as a better, more sustainable supply of noodles with greater affordability.
In every project, of course, there are issues that can halt progress and potentially stop the research. “We have learned that collaborative projects are less linear,” said Dr. Buwalda. “We need to be aware of the change in momentum as the research project goes from the fundamental stage conducted at the university level to market research and, ultimately, to the consumer. While the dynamics of working with different partners and changes in interaction can make a collaborative effort more stressful, the rewards of collaboration can be great. At the end of the day, as long as you trust and value each other, you can form a true partnership.”