Molecular complexes based on proteins and ionic polysaccharides have considerable potential for encapsulation of functional food components, but their widespread utilization is limited because their structure is highly sensitive to pH and ionic strength. We have investigated the possibility of creating stable hydrogel particles by thermal treatment of protein (β-lactoglobulin) and cationic polysaccharide (chitosan) mixtures. Mixed solutions of β-lactoglobulin (0.5 wt %) and chitosan (0.1 wt %) were prepared at various pH's (3−8) and were heated (80 °C for 20 min). Prior to heating, the biopolymer mixtures formed molecular complexes at pH values where there was an electrostatic attraction between the protein and the polysaccharide: soluble complexes at pH 4.5; complex coacervates at pH 5.0 and 5.5; precipitates at pH > 5.5. After heating, relatively small (d ≈ 140 nm) and cationic (ζ > +20 mV) hydrogel particles were formed at pH 4.5, but much larger aggregates were formed at pH 5.0 and higher (d > 1000 nm). The thermally treated hydrogel particles formed at pH 4.5 maintained their initial particle size when the pH was subsequently adjusted within the range pH 3−5, but they aggregated when the pH was adjusted to >pH 5 because of a reduction in the magnitude of their electrical charge. This study suggests that hydrogel particles can be formed by heating mixed protein−polysaccharide systems under controlled conditions. These hydrogel particles may be useful for encapsulation of functional food components.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/djulian_mcclements/90/