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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Molecules
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Molecules to Mozzarella and Peptides to Pizza

Senior Scientist:

 

The Problem

Developing More Nutritious Lunches for School Children

  • National Academy of Sciences recommends reducing dietary fat and cholesterol.
  • USDA/HHS publish dietary guidelines for Americans, 1990.
  • Ellen Haas, consumer advocate, calls for more nutritious school lunches.
  • Food and Nutrition Service contacts Dairy and Functional Foods Research Unit at ERRC, 1992.  "Can you help?"
  • Low-fat Mozzarella cheese identified as a desirable component of school lunches.
    • Cheese is an important source of calcium and protein.
    • Pizza is a favorite with all school children.
  • Commercially available low-fat Mozzarella cheeses have poor texture and flavor, poor consumer acceptability.

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Meeting the Challenge

A Scientific Approach to Low-Fat Mozzarella

  • Cheese is a complex material, and its manufacture depends on the interplay of natural systems.  No evidence that low-fat cheeses available in 1992 were developed with a sound conceptual basis.
  • The Dairy and Functional Foods Research Unit knowledge base:
    • Molecular modeling of caseins and peptide fragments.
    • Sophisticated instrumental analysis of cheese texture.
    • Electrophoretic techniques to assess casein breakdown.
    • Electron microscopy/image analysis of cheese structure.
    • Comprehensive dairy pilot plant facilities and expertise.

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Three-dimensional molecular models for caseins were developed using amino acid sequences of caseins and physical-chemical data on caseins developed by scientists at ERRC and other institutions.  The validity of these models is apparent after assembling multiple copies into a structure very similar to that of casein submicelles observed by electron microscopy.

Predicted three dimensional structures for bovine caseins - dpphoto1.gif

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Enzymatic breakdown of as1-casein during storage is a predictor of improvement in texture and meltability of very low fat Mozzarella cheese.  Changes in electron micrographs suggest that reorganization of casein submicelles is responsible for improved qualities.

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Correlation of functional analysis graph - dpgraph.gif

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Molecular modeling of peptides resulting from proteolytic breakdown predicts that these fragments have a strong tendency to become more compact and act as fat replacers in breaking up the density of the protein matrix.  This observation was confirmed by electron microscopy.

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Structures - dpphoto6.gif

Electron microscopy of Mozzarella cheese - dpphoto2.gif

Development of protein matrix - dpphoto3.gifLine

Fine tuning of process improves quality - dpphoto4.gif

 

Achieving Success

Mozzarella Cheese with <10% fat

  • Innovative modifications in processing conditions enhance texture and meltability.
  • Successful commercial-scale production at three cheese plants.
  • Pizza made with low fat Mozzarella tested in schools.  "We like it!"
  • Specifications developed with Agricultural Marketing Service.
  • National School Lunch Program adopts very low fat cheese for use on pizza - first invitation for bids in January 1995.

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Successful Tech Transfer

To date, totals for Lite Mozzarella supplied by several manufacturers have reached 23,000,000 pounds with an estimated value of $34,500,000.

The team involved in the development of Lite Mozzarella received the following awards:

  • 1994 Philadelphia Executive Board Gold Medal Team Award
  • 1995 National ARS Award for Technology Transfer
  • 1996 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award of Merit for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

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Photo of kids eating pizza - dpphoto5.gif

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Results

A nutritious product for a diet conscious market and a new information base for future developments.


Last Modified: 5/27/2010