Could high-amylose wheat open new areas of food formulation?

These starches have the potential to help fill the fibre gap and add health claims to products.

25 February 2019
image credit: Getty Images

High-amylose starches – are we talking about another natural mood booster?

Calm down, this isn’t related to cannabis.

Amylose is actually a type of resistant starch, meaning it isn’t well digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, it’s fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. But while you might be thinking that sounds painful, it actually behaves like dietary fibre – and we all know that health-conscious consumers are looking to boost their intake. But the added bonus? It limits spikes in blood sugar levels and there are even claims that it can lower cholesterol.

These types of starches also offer unique functional properties and enhanced nutritional values, according to new research published in the Comprehensive Reviews of Food Science and Food Safety.

However, high-amylose starches (HAS) were actually developed in the 1940s.

So the idea has been around for 80 years. Why the slow progress then?

Slow and steady wins the race! The most common commercially available source of high-amylose starches are derived from maize, but its use is not widespread due to processing hassles, a unique flavour and often the need to add gluten.

However, researchers believe developing high-amylose wheat is the way to go – particularly with the current health trends. Resistant starches can not only bolster fibre consumption, but contribute to a lower risk of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.

Co-author of the research, Dr Sushil Dhital from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, added that resistant starches can increase immune function and help with weight management as the satiety hormones increase both short and long term.

“Even though there are known and proven benefits of resistant starches, most diets still have low amounts of resistant starches and we are struggling to meet the recommended daily intake of dietary fibre from our diet,” he told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator. “This is mainly due to excess consumption of processed foods as well as the lack of availability of an adequate source of fibre ingredients. There are some food products with added high-amylose maize starches but not many.”

So it’s good for consumers, got it. But what about on the formulation side?

In a nutshell, it will taste better and you can add more.

Dr Dhital claims it could offer a solution to the sensory and taste problems associated with a lot of fibre-enriched products.

At the moment, soluble fibre can create a slimy feeling on the tongue and often makes a product look unappealing, while insoluble fibre like wheat bran increases the coarseness of goods, which is off-putting for a large part of the population, he explained.

Additionally, both soluble and insoluble fibres hold water, meaning they can only be added to formulations up to a certain limit, often just 1-2%.

“These problems, however, can be overcome with resistant starch. Resistant starch is a condensed source of fibre. Processors can easily add 20-30% HAS in their formulations replacing wheat flour or other starches with minimum effect or sensory properties,” he commented.

“As HAS do not swell and absorb water as much as many other dietary fibres, they are processing friendly. HAS can be easily incorporated in products like bread, biscuits, cookies, pasta, muffins, cakes and breakfast cereals.”

What needs to change?

Well, it needs some ingenious innovation, doesn’t it? Dr Dhital reckons high-amylose wheat is ripe for development and commercialisation.

It’s an ingredient that would allow e a manufacturer to make both resistant starch and fibre claims in one product. The EU has approved health claims for products with resistant starch content of 14% - meaning they can toot their horn about the reduction in blood glucose rises.

Achieving this level isn’t a big deal either, said Dr Dhital. “For example, a food that contains 60g starch, 8.4g of resistant starch is enough to make the claim,” he said.

High-amylose wheat flour-based products are also likely to have better nutritional functionality in terms of lowering the glycaemic response as well as improved colonic health, he added. “This will be a win-win situation for consumers and processors,” he said.

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