ICC president talks health and cereal science

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gluten-free products Nutrition

In the second part of the BakeryandSnacks.com interview with award-winning scientist Prof. Dr. John Taylor, the 2009-2010 president of the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC) discusses why health will continue to be a central issue for cereal scientists in 2009.

ICC was founded in 1955 at the 3rd International Bread Congress in Hamburg, Germany. Its original objective was to develop internationally approved and accepted standard testing procedures for cereals and flour.

Today, these qualitative standards are used as benchmarks the world over by the grain trade, ingredients firms and food manufacturers.

Further, the ICC, with fifty country members and the same number of corporate members, now describes itself as a "neutral forum for all cereal scientists and technologists" encouraging national and international events to disseminate information that touches the domain of cereal science.

Prof. Dr. John Taylor, since 1992 based at Pretoria university's food science department, has spent more than 30 years working on cereals and is currently studying the grain sorghum that he describes as "probably one of the most useful of the gluten-free cereals."

Formulation challenges for gluten-free goods

Reflecting the wider food industry, health will continue to be a core issue for cereal scientists in 2009.

For the bakery industry, and perhaps among the well-heeled consumers, there will be an increasing focus on gluten-free products and a rise in non-wheat baked goods, said Prof. Taylor.

Currently, many baked products on sale today are "cocktails made from starch",​ generally corn starch. But the challenge for food scientists is to somehow mimic the sensory qualities of wheaten products and "to try and get more flavour into the non-wheat product".

In addition, the formulation of certain forms of gluten-free products often requires "lots of improvers and the base starch"​ added the professor, that results in a long list of ingredients.

Alternative grains for gluten-free products are "generally more expensive than starch"​ and the particular challenge for food scientist is "how to keep the products fresh".

A large number of gluten-free products are available in a frozen form because the starch retrogrades quickly resulting in a product that is rapidly stale.

The challenge: making bran palatable

The ICC is heavily involved with the EU-funded Healthgrain project, set up in 2005 to promote consumption of whole grains in Europe as a way to reduce the incidence of heart disease and diabetes.

One of the key aims of the project is to 'generate new sources of nutritionally enhanced grain and to provide a ‘biotechnology toolkit’ for plant breeding programmes.'

For Prof. Taylor, industry has yet to embrace the full opportunities linked to health and whole grains.

"I think cereal products have not been marketed sufficiently on their antioxidant powers,"​ he commented.

But he points out that one major problem for formulators is that the amount of antioxidant activity in a food product is directly related to the amount of bran in the formulation.

And bran-rich foods are less appealing to consumer taste buds. So the key challenge for food scientists is to design bran-rich products that are palatable.

Further, if food designers opt to switch from wheat to red grains, the challenge is to make the food products taste less bitter.

In terms of solutions, Professor Taylor cites sorghum, "particularly rich in phenolics with good antioxidant activity, without a bitter taste."

The 'chelsea bun' conundrum

"Creating products that are attractive to eat but not considered unhealthy is a key issue for reformulations,"​ said the ICC president.

Slicing sugar and fat from formulations in a bid to curb soaring obesity rates is a dominant challenge for today's food scientists.

Take the role of sugar in the chelsea bun.

"Sugar softens the crumb and reduces staleness, it acts a sweetener, promotes browning, there's sugar in the glaze to prevent the product from drying out, and sugar is also used as a fermentation agent,"​ said Prof. Taylor.

"How do you replace that one ingredient?"​ he asserts.

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, he says, can do this to a degree, but the sweetness profile is "not quite the same"​ and in large quantities polyols can have a laxative effect.

The ingredients 'arms race'

But for the professor, food science can not be the only solution to obesity. "In my opinion consumers have to be weaned off sugar,"​ he commented.

And crucially, evolving a less sweet taste profile in on-the-shelf products for today's consumer involves collective action, from all the food makers, on an even playing field.

"For a lot of ingredients there's an 'arms race,"​ said Prof. Taylor.

"But everybody has to play the same game. If a product higher in salt or sugar than the competitor does well, then the competitor is less inclined to continue in the 'less' vein,"​ he concluded.

In 2006 the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ (AACC) awarded its ’Excellence in Teaching Award’ to Prof John Taylor.

According to the AACC, since joining South Africa's Pretoria university in 1992, Taylor has supervised and co-supervised some 40 masters and doctoral graduates in food science from eight African countries, plus South Africa.

Together with these students he has authored more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

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