Aug. 14, 2001 A newly designed spaghetti can provide almost 25 percent more protein than what’s currently on store shelves, according to a report in the current (August) issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
The protein-fortified spaghetti uses corn gluten meal to boost its potency from approximately eight grams of protein per two-ounce serving to approximately 10 grams, according to Y. Victor Wu, who led the research team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Peoria, Ill. The new spaghetti has good flavor and texture, according to eight trained taste testers and a panel of nine consumers who gave the product a forks-up, Wu said.
Normal spaghetti is made using durum wheat, although other types of wheat or cereals can also be used. The added processing steps would add slightly to the cost of spaghetti, but would also increase A and B vitamin content, Wu said. The properties of a new spaghetti would be useful to a number of people, he added.
“There is increasing interest, especially among vegetarians and health-conscious people, for protein-enriched foods with no cholesterol and low saturated fat contents,” he said. “We think this may fulfill the demand for healthful food from plant sources.”
The researchers developed a new processing method for the corn gluten meal, which is widely available as a by-product from milling corn, but has an unpleasant taste. Using water, carbon dioxide and ethanol, they were able to wash out the sour, yeasty flavor of unprocessed meal. The enriched spaghetti still has a slight taste of corn gluten meal that would likely not be noticeable when paired with sauce, Wu said.
Unacceptable taste or poor texture has complicated previous attempts to artificially add protein to spaghetti and other pastas, Wu said. Food manufacturers believe there is a market for protein-enhanced pasta, marked by some companies continuing experiments with soy flour and fish protein additives, he noted. No one has tried corn gluten meal as a protein substitute before, he said. The researchers have not worked with any companies to market the modified spaghetti.
The washed corn gluten meal has so far only been used for spaghetti, Wu said, although he sees no reason it wouldn’t work in other pastas. In addition, it could potentially be used as a substitute for wheat in other foods, upping the protein content of flour and breads, although further experiments would be needed, he said.
The National Academy of Science’s recommended daily allowance of protein is approximately 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, described on average as 63 grams for men and 50 grams for women.
More than 2.5 billion pounds of corn gluten meal are produced annually in the United States, according to the USDA. A by-product of milling corn and making fuel alcohol, corn gluten meal is also used as an herbicide. Nearly a billion pounds of pasta were sold in the United States in 1998, for an average of more than three pounds of pasta per person that year. Any further uses would provide an additional market for the corn gluten meal, Wu said.
The research cited above was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Y. Victor Wu, Ph.D., is a research chemist in Fermentation Biotechnology Research at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, with the United States Department of Agriculture in Peoria, Ill.
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