The Moderate Electric Field (MEF) processing of foods consists in the application of an electric potential gradient (????/??) ranging from 1 to 1000 V/cm on a food item (homogeneous or heterogeneous) placed between two electrodes, its main effect being the food heating due to the dissipation of a part of the electric energy into heat within the food item. The heating performances of such a system depend on several process and system parameters, including the applied ????/??, the food electrical conductivity, and its thermo-physical properties. In this study, the effects due to the salt composition and to the applied ????/?? to a heterogeneous food (constituted by a basil-based sauce, mainly fibers dispersed in a slightly salted water-oil emulsion) treated in a custom MEF system on the food heating rate are investigated. The samples were prepared at different salinities (3.25, 1.63, 0.86 and 0.43% w/w respectively). In the explored range of compositions, the heating rate increased linearly with the square power of applied ????/??. A slight linearity deviation above 55°C was observed for the basil-based sauce at 1.63% and 5.20 V/cm, associated with bubble formation within the ohmic system and the electrolytic reactions occurring at the electrode-solution interface during the MEF heating process.
The salt content as well as the ratio between water and oil in the sample formulation played a crucial role in determining the thermo-electrical behavior of the basil-based sauce samples. Samples with salinity of 1.63%, compared to samples at 3.25%, exhibited a higher electrical conductivity, being due to a minor concentration of the non-conductive phase (namely the oil phase as well as the dispersed vegetable fibers into the solution) that exerts a major degree of electrical insulation. As the salinity decreases from 1.63% to 0.43%, samples were characterized by lower electrical conductivities, being due to a reduced ionic mobility when the salt contained into the sample is drastically reduced.