Engineering discipline strives to give practical operational frame work for a scientific finding and success of process and equipment designs will depend critically on the soundness of the basic findings on which they are based. Food engineering has come a long way since emerging as a distinct discipline during the second world war from the main stream mechanical engineering discipline and is dependent on chemical engineering to be successful in creating commercial production systems. The enormous variety of processed products in the market are possible to day because of tremendous advances made by food engineering discipline in the last 3 decades. With the advent of robotic technology, mechanization and automation are bound to become industry watch words as the need for human intervention and increased scale of operations tend to bring down production costs significantly. At a time when processed foods are being blamed for many ills of the society, does such a development augur well, is an important question.
As early as 1956, CFTRI pioneered synthetic rice from tapioca roots through a revolutionary technology which was much ahead of time. To day practically every processed food is made by application of food engineering in a big way whether it is for flavoring, coloring, texturizing, viscosity modification, shaping, concentration, drying, fortification, enrichment, cooking, sterilization or packing. Beyond this, new foods are 'engineered' to provide novelties for attracting new consumers and boost health attributes. Cold extrusion has given to the consumer pasta products from wheat, rice and other ingredients while cooker extruders have been able to give hundreds of new products with ready to eat characteristics. Breakfast cereals, one of the earliest convenient foods created by the industry became a regular part of diet in the western food system and continuous innovations and diversification to meet the needs of young and old alike are being made. In India engineering application to traditional foods area has contributed to a number of innovations, mainly for increased productivity and product standardization. Commercial plants for mass manufacture of staples like roti, idli, dosa, vada, many RTE foods are now available from the food machinery manufacturers.
A technology is like a double edged sword and its utility value depends on the way it is applied. If unsound ingredients are used in the recipe, the product also is bound to be unsound in terms of quality,safety and nutrition. If right ingredients and balanced recipes are used engineered foods can revolutionize the health status of the consumers very significantly. There are innumerable examples of healthier foods evolved by conscientious industry to meet the lofty goal of keeping the population healthy all the times. Meat analogs, omega-3 fruit juices, mocroencapsulated probiotics, protein enriched foods, interesterified fats, cheese based snacks, healthier ice cream products, digestive biscuits, whole wheat breads, fiber enriched products, low calorie foods, low glycemic breakfast cereals and snacks, low salt and low fat meals and snacks and many others strengthened with many phytochemicals like isoflavones, antioxidants, stannols, carotenoids, etc, are all excellent products based on the innovations of food technologists and food engineers.
In spite of such fantastic range of engineered foods available to the consumer during the last few years, why is that the health status of population is declining rapidly with many diseases assuming epidemic proportion? Probably food technology is not 'the be all and end all' for every food related health problems which must be recognized. The products coming out of the industry are not meant to change the life style of people but are only to supplement or augment the consumption of natural foods, especially fruits and vegetables, as much as possible. It is the consumer who should make a choice regarding what he should eat, how much he must eat and to what extent the processed foods should replace naturally cooked foods at home in his daily menu. Depending entirely on food industry for sound health and blaming it for all the ills, can never be justified.