We homo sapiens codeveloped with the grasses, such as wheat, rice, and maize (corn), to survive; as the grasses evolved, so did we humans. During prehistoric times, the collision of tectonic plates caused climate changes in eastern Africa, creating much drier conditions. Rainforests became semiarid grasslands, the savannas. Our ancestors were forced to create new methods and processes to survive. Their larger brains allowed them to cope with it all and thrive. They invented clothing and spears and learned to grind grains into flour. The quest for a better, more securely nourished world remains a central part of the human condition, even though food is now produced and consumed in radically different ways.
In this issue of Cereal Foods World, we explore the historical importance and influence of cereal processing on the technological and social development of civilization. By examining the history of grain and milling technology in the context of the 21st century global food system, we see humanity’s quest for food security playing out across a planet with limited (and diminishing) resources. Out of necessity, we must address the role of cereals in the pressing global issues of climate change, overpopulation, and oil depletion.
Cereals are the engine of the global food system, but their value as a food is only unlocked through processing. Effective processing enables cereals to contribute to the global food supply with even greater efficiency. Concurrently, a new role for cereals as a source of fuel and manufacturing chemicals is emerging. These new opportunities require cereal process engineers to integrate divergent needs and competing economic drivers. Innovation in cereal process engineering can create new synergies between the two industry sectors and their technologies.
Mildred Cookson’s article, “The Rise and Fall of the Millstone,” underscores the historical importance of flour milling and its impact on societal and technological advances around the world. Phil Sheppard’s article, meanwhile, offers a forward-looking vision of cereal processing as a vehicle to serve both food and nonfood needs through integrated food processing and biorefining facilities. Just as cereal processing enabled the emergence of biorefining, cereal processing can now reap benefits from new advances in this rapidly evolving industry. The emergence of biorefineries offers opportunities for development of new food ingredients and processing efficiencies through integration and has fundamentally changed the landscape of cereal processing.
Anne Vissers’ team at Campden BRI shares new tools for preprocessing cereals to unlock their nutritional and functional benefits. They remind us that cereal process engineers have a range of technologies at their disposal to prepare grains for further processing.
In the Issues and Trends section of this issue, we feature a range of applications that illustrate how specific processing technologies deliver food quality at the individual consumer level, in the context of both the past and future. Microwave-assisted baking might well be the sleeping giant of the baking industry, not least because it can be powered by clean electrical energy instead of fossil fuels. Eda Yildiz and colleagues lean into this opportunity in their article on microwave-assisted baking for gluten-free rice cakes and breads. Bernhard Noll (RapidoJet) introduces an entirely new approach to the ancient practice of dough mixing using a high-pressure hydration system, while in another example of how old can be blended with new technology, Celia Schlosser and Martin Mitzkat (Revtech) introduce an innovation in kilning systems for efficient heat treatment of oats.
The topics covered in this issue demonstrate that while the future of cereal processing presents new challenges, history can be our teacher. Milling techniques used in years past provide clues to milling techniques that can be used in the future as integrated resource conservation and the energy–water–food nexus assume ever greater prominence. The articles in this issue also illuminate how technological innovations occur in the context of larger societal and global forces. We conclude that the challenge of engineers in the 21st century is to deal with the consequences of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.