Their method, which was published in the journal Cereal Chemistry, achieved commercially-manufactured tortillas with nearly three times as much thiamin, niacin and zinc; four times as much iron and riboflavin; and five times the folic acid compared to regular tortillas.
The project involved processing, taste and texture tests. It was sponsored by Sustain, a non-profit group that aims to improve nutrition in developing countries, and is supported by donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to lead researcher Michael Dunn, the fortification of tortillas is particularly important as the Mexican population has been found to be deficient in iron, zinc and folic acid, which results in stunted growth for children and other subsequent health issues.
Corn tortillas can make up around half of the daily calories of many Mexican families.
“Parents often send their children to the neighborhood tortilla mill as many as three times a day for fresh tortillas for every meal, but they are lacking in key vitamins and minerals,” said the researchers.
A major priority of the project was to find a fortification method that could be easily implemented at a low cost at the ‘mom-and-pop’ mills that produce 60 percent of Mexico’s tortillas.
The researchers tested various forms of powdered and liquid vitamins and minerals to find the type and combination that would be most suited to the milling and baking process.
They also conducted tests to ensure that the appearance, texture and taste of the tortillas remained unchanged. Panels of Mexican consumers conducted taste tests, reporting no difference between the fortified and regular products.
The approach was tested at a tortilla mill in Salt Lake City before being scaled up at mills in Mexico City and Guadalajara for full-scale production tests.
Sustain is now working with the Mexican government and seeking funds to take the process to other regions of Mexico.
US Hispanic populations
Dietary deficiencies of the US Hispanic populations are also a major focus of the nation’s scientific community and food industry.
The US Hispanic contingent now numbers more than 44 million and accounts for roughly 15 percent of the total population, according to the market analysts Nielsen. Hispanics will represent $1.2 trillion in spending power by 2012, according to Selig Center for Economic Growth.
According to Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietician and a member of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) scientific advisory board, the Hispanic community in the US is particularly at risk of poor diets because of food insecurity, lack of access to healthy foods and low socioeconomic status.
Melendez-Klinger briefed members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in October on research that addresses the relationship between acculturation and diet among Latinos in the US.
She specifically highlighted the importance of getting folic acid into the diets of the Hispanic community.