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Foods are materials which, in their naturally occurring, processed or cooked forms, are consumed by humans as nourishment and for enjoyment. The terms “nourishment” and “enjoyment” introduce two important properties of foods: the nutritional value and the hedonic value. The former is relatively easy to quantify since all the important nutrients are known and their effects are defined.
Furthermore, there are only a limited number of nutrients. Defining the hedonic value of a food is more difficult because such a definition must take into account all those properties of a food, such as visual appeal, smell, taste and texture, which interact with the senses. These properties can be influenced by a large number of compounds which in part have not even been identified. Besides their nutritional and hedonic values, foods are increasingly being judged according to properties which determine their handling.
Thus, the term “convenience foods”. An obvious additional requirement of a food is that it be free from toxic materials. Food chemistry is involved not only in elucidating the composition of the raw materials and end-products, but also with the changes which occur in food during its production, processing, storage and cooking. The highly complex nature of food results in a multitude of desired and undesired reactions which are controlled by a variety of parameters.
To gain a meaningful insight into these reactions, it is necessary to break up the food into model systems. Thus, starting from compositional analyses (detection, isolation and structural characterization of food constituents), the reactions of a single constituent or of a simple mixture can be followed. Subsequently, an investigation of a food in which an individual reaction dominates can be made. Inherently, such a study starts with a given compound and is thus not restricted to any one food or group of foods.Such general studies of reactions involving food constituents are supplemented by special investigations which focus on chemical processes in individual foods.
Research of this kind is from the very beginning closely associated with economic and technological aspects and contributes, by understanding the basics of the chemical processes occurring in foods, both to resolving specific technical problems and to process optimization. A comprehensive evaluation of foods requires that analytical techniques keep pace with the available technology. As a result a major objective in food chemistry is concerned with the application and continual development of analytical methods. This aspect is particularly important when following possible contamination of foods with substances which may involve a health risk. Thus, there are close links with environmental problems.
Food chemistry research is aimed at establishing objective standards by which the criteria mentioned above – nutritional value, hedonic value, absence of toxic compounds and convenience – can be evaluated. These are a prerequisite for the industrial production of high quality food in bulk amounts This brief outline thus indicates that food chemistry, unlike other branches of chemistry which are concerned either with particular classes of compounds or with particular methods, is a subject which, both in terms of the actual chemistry and the methods involved, has a very broad field to cover.
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