Few fully natural and biocompatible materials are available for the effective particle-stabilization of emulsions since strict requirements, such as insolubility in both fluid phases and intermediate wettability, need to be met. In this paper, we demonstrate the first use of water-insoluble proteins, employing the corn protein zein as a representative of this family, as effective particle-stabilizers of oil-in-water emulsions of natural oils and water. For this purpose, we synthesized zein colloidal particles through an anti-solvent precipitation procedure and demonstrated their use in the formation of stable oil-in-water Pickering emulsions as a function of particle concentration, pH and ionic strength. We confirmed that the wetting properties of zein, studied as a function of pH and ionic strength, strongly favor interfacial particle adsorption with oil-in-water three-phase contact angles θow close to 90°. We found that unmodified zein colloidal particles can produce stable, surfactant-free o/w emulsions with droplet sizes in the range 10–200 μm under experimental mixing conditions (2 min with Ultra Turrax homogenizer at 13 500 rpm) at pH above and below the isoelectric point of zein, for low to moderate ionic strengths (1–10 mM). Under conditions where the particle volume fraction is low (<0.2 wt%) or at low pH, the resulting emulsions are not stable against coalescence. At a higher ionic strength, the zein particles have a tendency to aggregate and the resulting emulsions flocculate, forming an emulsion–gel phase.
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