Alison L, Demirörs AF, Tervoort E, Teleki A, Vermant J, Studart AR
Langmuir 34 (21) 6147-6160 [2018-05-29; online 2018-05-17]
In food-grade emulsions, particles with an appropriate surface modification can be used to replace surfactants and potentially enhance the stability of emulsions. During the life cycle of products based on such emulsions, they can be exposed to a broad range of pH conditions and hence it is crucial to understand how pH changes affect stability of emulsions stabilized by particles. Here, we report on a comprehensive study of the stability, microstructure, and macroscopic behavior of pH-controlled oil-in-water emulsions containing silica nanoparticles modified with chitosan, a food-grade polycation. We found that the modified colloidal particles used as stabilizers behave differently depending on the pH, resulting in unique emulsion structures at multiple length scales. Our findings are rationalized in terms of the different emulsion stabilization mechanisms involved, which are determined by the pH-dependent charges and interactions between the colloidal building blocks of the system. At pH 4, the silica particles are partially hydrophobized through chitosan modification, favoring their adsorption at the oil-water interface and the formation of Pickering emulsions. At pH 5.5, the particles become attractive and the emulsion is stabilized by a network of agglomerated particles formed between the droplets. Finally, chitosan aggregates form at pH 9 and these act as the emulsion stabilizers under alkaline conditions. These insights have important implications for the processing and use of particle-stabilized emulsions. On one hand, changes in pH can lead to undesired macroscopic phase separation or coalescence of oil droplets. On the other hand, the pH effect on emulsion behavior can be harnessed in industrial processing, either to tune their flow response by altering the pH between processing stages or to produce pH-responsive emulsions that enhance the functionality of the emulsified end products.