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Phase separation is a fundamental phenomenon that produces spatially heterogeneous patterns in soft matter and foods. We argue that phase separation in these materials generally belongs to “viscoelastic phase separation”, where the morphology is determined by the mechanical balance of not only the thermodynamic force (interface tension) but also the viscoelastic force. The origin of the viscoelastic force is dynamic asymmetry between the components of a mixture, which can be caused by either a size disparity or a difference in the glass transition temperature between the components. Such dynamic asymmetry quite often exists in foods, which are typically mixtures of big molecules (polymers, proteins, etc.) and liquids (water, oil, etc.). We show examples of mechanically driven pattern formation in foods, in which dynamic asymmetry plays crucial roles, including the formation of network and cellular patterns in foods (e.g., breads, sponge cakes, butter, chocolates, etc.) and crack pattern formation (dried foods, cooked meat, etc.). Collapsing of these structures upon heating or moisture uptake is also discussed. We also argue that heterogeneous gels are in general formed as a consequence of dynamical arrest of the viscoelastic phase separation. Finally we mention an intimate link of viscoelastic phase separation, where deformation fields are spontaneously generated by phase separation itself, to mechanical instability and fracture induced by externally imposed strain fields. Such mechanical instability and nonlinear rheology may be relevant to food processing and also to separation and fracture of foods. We propose that all these phenomena can be understood as mechanically driven inhomogeneization with the concept of dynamic asymmetry in a unified manner.
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