Farm Ireland

Monday 15 October 2018

Making more of milk with science and engineering

Automatic milking machine.
Automatic milking machine.

Christine Loscher

Most of us encounter milk in our cereal or coffee, or maybe even neat as a refreshing drink. But Dr Eoin Murphy, a Research Officer at Teagasc's Department of Food Chemistry and Technology in Moorepark, does a deeper dive. He's interested in ways to extract and use beneficial 'functional' molecules from milk and to improve how milk is processed into dairy ingredients and products.

"Cow's milk is a really complex, biological material, there's a lot of science involved in understanding it," says Dr Murphy. "It changes depending on the diet the cows are fed, the genetics of the cow and even the time of year."

To get more from milk, Dr Murphy works as part of a group of academic researchers and industry called Food for Health Ireland, which 'mines' milk for beneficial molecules that could be extracted and added as separate ingredients to other foods.

"We are always looking for ways to add value to milk, and this area of 'functional foods' is something that food companies are very interested in," he says.

"My role is to see how the discoveries scientists make in the lab about these interesting and beneficial milk molecules can be scaled up so that food companies can use them at a larger scale."

Dr Murphy also examines what happens to cows' milk as it is treated to become dairy powders and ways to improve that process.

Eoin Murphy, Teagasc.
Eoin Murphy, Teagasc.

Growing up in rural Co Cork, Dr Murphy has long been aware of the importance of the dairy sector to the Irish economy, and he was drawn to the fields of engineering and research.

After his degree in chemical and process engineering at Cork Institute of Technology, he did a PhD in dairy processing at Teagasc and University College Cork. Then, after working in industry, he returned to Teagasc where he is now building up his own research group.

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The dairy sector needs scientists and engineers to ensure that farmers, processors and food companies are always innovating to ensure we get the most out of milk in a sustainable and efficient way, he says.

"Dairy scientists know the material inside out and how it responds to stresses in a processing environment, while engineers can apply new techniques to monitor and improve processing," he says.

"And there is no shortage of drivers for innovation.Between the abolition of milk quotas and now Brexit, we have to continue to be smart about how we process milk to get the most from it."

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