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Project Looks For Gain From Grain

The cereal grain is at the heart of a Crop & Food Research project to turn a raw material into high-technology foods.

“The cereal-based foods research programme is aimed at increasing the domestic and international competitiveness of New Zealand’s rapidly growing food industry,” programme leader Kevin Sutton says. “We do that by providing the food industry with advanced knowledge, materials and technologies gained from research on grain science and processing, at both the molecular and bulk property levels.”

The research programme, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, looks at grain from many aspects, including protein and carbohydrate molecular structure, grain-milling qualities, grain and flour-processing properties, grain food nutrition and health benefits, and new technology for controlling pests in the grain industry.

Researchers are developing new ways of using grain crops for nutritious, high-value export pastries, breads, pastas, corn chips and taco shells, extrusion snacks, breakfast foods, specialised animal feeds, food ingredients and biomaterials. “It’s greater gain from grain,” Dr Sutton says.

One new product, Glucagel, is derived from barley. It is a gelling, soluble fibre that is based on glucan and has nutritional and medicinal uses. It has been developed by GraceLinc, a joint venture between Crop & Food Research and Industrial Research Ltd. Work is also under way on waxy starches – found in high quantities in barley – and on other raw materials found in oats.

Dr Sutton says further work on food-processing technology and “intelligent” processing control is aimed at minimising processing and improving food quality.

“Results will include improved cereal-based food processes and development of new cereal-based foods.”

The programme is closely linked with biomaterials research in the Foundation-funded Advanced Biological Materials NERF programme. “It all contributes to the ‘wealth-creating food and fibre industries’ and, to a lesser extent, to ‘wealth from new knowledge-based enterprises’ and ‘health for all’ government target outcomes,” Dr Sutton says. “We’re adding value to grain right across the production chain.”

Caption: Crop & Food researcher Jafar Al-Hakkak investigates the interactions between grain carbohydrates and proteins as part of the cereal-based foods research programme.

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