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Using ultrasound to measure noodle quality

Technology and science help customers understand how Canadian grain performs in their products. Canadian Grain Commission researchers have:

  • Studied low-intensity ultrasonic testing, a new way to measure the quality of yellow alkaline noodles. Example: Measuring texture, strength and elasticity.
  • Tested the technology on several classes of wheat, including durum wheat, which is not typically used for noodles
  • Found that ultrasonic testing is a reliable way to learn more about the quality of yellow alkaline noodles

Ultrasound is usually used:

  • As a diagnostic tool in medicine
  • To learn about a material’s internal structure without cutting it open
  • As a way to measure quality in the construction industry

Scientists are exploring how to work with ultrasound to increase its versatility. Food scientists have begun looking at how ultrasound can be used as a quality control tool when food is being manufactured. Ultrasound can quickly reveal potential hazards or deviations which could let manufacturers make changes to their processes more efficiently.

A proof-of-concept study

The Canadian Grain Commission researchers completed a proof-of-concept study. A proof-of-concept study shows that a proposed process or technology can work on a small scale. This means that while the study showed it is possible to use ultrasonic testing to measure noodle quality, the technology is not yet at the point where it can be used in a noodle factory. More research and development is needed.

Researcher conducting ultrasonic testing using experimental set-up.

Researcher conducting ultrasonic testing using experimental set-up.

What are yellow alkaline noodles?

The researchers worked with yellow alkaline noodles because noodles are a popular part of Asian cuisine, which makes them economically important. Chow mein noodles are a type of yellow alkaline noodle.

Right now, yellow alkaline noodles are mainly made from wheat flour. Researchers at the Canadian Grain Commission have been studying using durum flour in yellow alkaline noodles. Currently, durum is mainly used for pasta.

Traditionally, noodle manufacturers used sensory panels, groups of experienced tasters, to test their products. Using tasters is not efficient in a large factory that makes many batches of noodles in a day. Also, it is not objective. Tasters can be affected by their personal preferences or by their health. Ultrasonic testing could be an efficient, objective alternative. It offers the added benefit for integration into a processing line as an online quality control tool.

Left to right: A bowl of common wheat noodles and a bowl of durum wheat noodles.

Yellow alkaline noodles made with common wheat (left) and durum wheat (right). Ultrasonic testing can show the effect that durum wheat has on noodle quality

Using ultrasonic testing

In order to test the ultrasonic testing method, the researchers made several types of noodles with different ingredients. For example, some batches were made with white spring wheat flour and others were made with durum flour. They also compared the results of ultrasonic testing with the results of stress relaxation testing on the same batches.

Stress relaxation testing is used to measure how strong and elastic a noodle is. Noodle strength and elasticity affect its processing quality or how the noodle feels when you bite into it. Different ingredients like flour make noodles more or less elastic and more or less stiff.

How does ultrasonic testing work?

Basically, a pulse of sound or a sound wave is sent through the material. The speed and strength of that sound wave will change depending on what the material is made of. To evaluate quality, you would measure the velocity and attenuation (speed and strength) of a sound wave. You then relate the measurement you get from the sound wave to known values for materials that are structurally similar.

Results from the study

The results for the noodle made from white wheat flour were different from those made from durum flour. This shows that ultrasonic testing is sensitive to change in noodle texture. Each noodle type would have a different texture because the ingredients were different.

How can ultrasonic testing be used?

  1. Canadian Grain Commission researchers can use this technology to show customers of Canadian grain that Canadian grain will perform well in their products. If a manufacturer can offer a better quality product than a competitor, it will gain an advantage in the marketplace.
  2. Noodle manufacturers could use this technology to measure the quality of their product in real-time and make efficient adjustments to their processes based on what they discover.

At this time, more research and development is needed before ultrasonic testing is ready for the marketplace, but this is a step in that direction.