UCC professor patents biodegradable gum formula

10 Nov 2011

Prof Elke Arendt at University College Cork

Food and nutritional science professor Elke Arendt at University College Cork has come up with a formula (now patented) for creating biodegradable chewing gum.

Her patent is now ready for commercialisation, and should attract the attention of both confectionery companies and local authorities globally, with the latter forced to come up with innovative ways of removing chewing gum from streets and pavements, a very costly business, seeing as chewing gum is a sticky offender and doesn’t degrade easily.

The idea to create such a patent was sparked from other research work Arendt was carrying out in the area of gluten-free cereal products, where the wheat needs to be replaced by other proteins with visco-elastic properties.

Arendt and her research team at the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences UCC devised a novel process for the development of biodegradable chewing gum, using cereal proteins as the main ingredients.

“These natural proteins are modified using technologies and ingredients that increase the elasticity of the cereal proteins so that they can be used as a base material for the production of chewing gum,” explained Arendt.

Chewing gum brands North America 2009

Chewing gum brands available in North America, as of 2009

But what is gum comprised of that makes it so sticky? Synthetic rubber, softeners, sweeteners and flavourings all make up chewing gum.

Arendt explained that synthetic rubbers are stretchy, have strong adhesive properties and are resistant to many chemicals used for cleaning.  

She said that reducing the stickiness of chewing gum requires a change in the chemical structure of its rubber base. However, the rubber base also determines commercially important features such as flavour, chewiness and shelf life. She said the challenge for the food industry is to develop a non-sticky, chewy biodegradable gum, without compromising the flavour of conventional gum.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, under the FIRM programme, funded the work for this project.

Arendt is a senior member of staff in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at UCC and her research is in the area of cereal and brewing science. She has been leading the field of gluten free research worldwide for the last 10 years. Currently, Arendt has a research team of 20 researchers and PhD students.

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Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic