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What's in a Cookie? Simulation in the Food & Drink Industry

What’s in a Cookie?

6-minute read
Sinothile Baloyi - June 30th 2023


Your favourite packaged cookie. What is it, actually? Let’s just focus on the basic ingredients of the kind of cookie you might bake yourself. So, probably wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, maybe chocolate, butter, and flavourings. Now let’s think about the physical properties of each ingredient, the things that your cookie is before it’s a cookie:

  • Flour - powder
  • Sugar- granular
  • Chocolate - colloid composed of cocoa, fat and sometimes sugar
  • Butter – water in oil emulsion
  • Baking powder – compound powder


What about your favourite sauce, ketchup, Brown sauce (Yes, rest of the world outside the UK, that’s what it’s called!) the jam/jelly/custard in your doughnut? All complex multi-property substances. At a material level food can be Newtonian fluids, simple elastic solids, but more often than not, it’s some combination of the two. Given this complexity, when it comes to food processing how do you predict how these complex materials will behave? Food at material level is pretty varied and understanding how it will behave in processing can be complex. From moulding chocolate without it breaking to making sauces that don’t separate and everything else in between, it’s essential to understand how foods will behave when subjected to all sorts of stresses and constraints.

Now, there are set parameters for a lot of food processing, we know lots about how these materials will behave under most conditions because we’ve been mixing, cooking, baking and mass-producing food for a long time. But food and drink are changing. There are many new constraints on the industry, from unexpected supply chain disruptions and rising energy costs to increased pressure to show environmental accountability and meet obligations.

For more than half a century now, simulation has been used across many engineering disciplines and industry sectors to meet challenges new and old. Today, for organisations in the food and drink industry, given the challenges at hand, there has never been a more pertinent time to develop and adopt effective simulation strategies.

Paramount amongst the challenges facing the food and drink industry is sustainability. One of the biggest scandals of our time, for instance, is how much food is wasted, 6.2 million tonnes every year in the UK alone by one measure. What if we were better at predicting the shelf life of our foods? what if we were, right across the board, able to better preserve packaged food by not simply preventing it from interacting with environmental factors, temperature changes, bacteria etc, but by also using smart and active packaging to prolong shelf life without adversely affecting the taste and texture of the food? Plastic has long been king when it comes to food packaging. But, as we move away from single use plastic to compostable and even edible packaging, what are the implications for the foods and beverages we are trying to preserve?

What about entirely novel foods? In a world where the production of a single kilogram of beef is estimated to create some 70 kg of Co2 emissions, it’s clear that we– and consumer trends support this–need to re-think our protein sources. The meat substitute industry is growing but could it grow even faster if it produced better foods that meat eaters could more easily adopt? How can this be achieved?

To help answer these questions and chart a way forward, NAFEMS has brought together a new community, the Food and Drink Industry Community (FDIC) to offer insight and investigate a way forward in simulation for the industry. Currently comprised of 6 members from industry and academia, the community’s three central aims are;

  • to become the go-to place for information and technical know-how when it comes to modelling simulation in the food and drink industry;
  • to be drivers in the state-of-the art, setting the development agenda and research focus to drive the industry forward;
  • to champion communication across the modelling and simulation space and beyond for the food and drink industry.

The FDIC recently held their first webinar in which they covered the fundamentals of physics-based simulation (in the context of chocolate), the importance of validation and the power of inline sensors when it comes to process engineering in food, a demonstration of the complexities of food materials, and insight on why modelling and simulation is so impactful in an organization.

They already have their first seminar planned for later this year in Birmingham. If you are interested in finding out what’s being done in this space already and how you can get involved, sign in /sign up to listen to the webinar.