Whole wheat makeover

Whole wheat pasta is a high-fibre, healthy alternative to traditional white flour pasta, but its texture may be too soft for some people. Now, a University of Guelph researcher is trying to change that by studying how gluten influences texture, so that manufacturers can make whole wheat pasta more palatable.

Jayne Bock, a food science researcher at the University of Guelph, hopes this will help consumers increase their fibre consumption.

“We want consumers to consume more whole-grain products because of the health implications,” she says.

Traditional whole-wheat pasta doesn’t give a firm bite.

“It’s very mushy, and people pick up on that,” Bock says. The texture deters consumers from eating healthier versions of their favourite foods.

Bock studies how gluten – a wheat protein that provides structure and elasticity – behaves in whole wheat. She says understanding that behaviour will help processors achieve a whole-wheat texture that pleases pasta eaters.

Whole wheat pasta exhibits a looser  gluten structure, which doesn’t hold starch granules in place. When these starch granules “leak” into the cooking water, the pasta loses its firmness.

Her research suggests that the pasta drying process can affect the gluten structure, and new methods can produce whole wheat pasta with the white-flour texture consumers prefer. The key is “low-temperature, long-time drying,” which minimizes heat exposure, which can damage the gluten network structure.

“We’re trying to remove texture as one of those barriers to consuming whole wheat pasta,” says Bock. “If we can make the texture between the two products similar, that is one less thing the consumer has to overcome in order to consume that product.”

Bock says her research has far-reaching implications. Manufacturers get a road map for creating more consumer-friendly products, and consumers can eat healthier without sacrificing pleasure.

“Everybody should get more fibre,” says Bock. “If I can help be part of that effort to improve the properties of fibre-containing products, especially whole grains, I’m pleased.”

This research is part of a bigger texture and flavour pasta project in collaboration with industry partner Mondelez International, the University of Milan and U of G. Prof. Lisa Duizer, Department of Food Science, is the principal investigator. Funding was provided by the Mitacs program in conjunction with Mondelez International Mississauga Mill.

Each month, Research Matters presents a daily series of blog posts based on a theme. This month’s theme is “Your Health.” Some of these stories have appeared previously in university publications. They are edited for brevity, clarity and style, and republished with permission here.

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