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Importance of Thiol-Functionalized Molecules for the Structure and Properties of Compression-Molded Glassy Wheat Gluten Bioplastics

Jansens, Koen J. A., Lagrain, Bert, Brijs, Kristof, Goderis, Bart, Smet, Mario, Delcour, Jan A.
Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 2013 v.61 no.44 pp. 10516-10524
additives, crosslinking, mechanical properties, mixing, molecular weight, polyols, thiols, wheat gluten
High-temperature compression molding of wheat gluten at low water levels yields a rigid plastic-like material. We performed a systematic study to determine the effect of additives with multiple thiol (SH) groups on gluten network formation during processing and investigate the impact of the resulting gluten network on the mechanical properties of the glassy end product. To this end, a fraction of the hydroxyl groups of different polyols was converted into SH functionalities by esterifying with 3-mercaptopropionic acid (MPA). The monofunctional additive MPA was evaluated as well. During low-temperature mixing SH-containing additives decreased the gluten molecular weight, whereas protein cross-linking occurred during high-temperature compression molding. The extent of both processes depended on the molecular architecture of the additives and their concentration. After molding, the material strength and failure strain increased without affecting the modulus, provided the additive concentration was low. The strength decreased again at too high concentrations for polyols with low SH functionalization. Attributing these effects solely to the interplay of plasticization and the SH-facilitated introduction of cross-links is inadequate, since an improvement in both strength and failure strain was also observed in the presence of high levels of MPA. It is hypothesized that, regardless of the molecular structure of the additive, the presence of SH-containing groups induces conformational changes which contribute to the mechanical properties of glassy gluten materials.