Athens, Ohio – A mango-like fruit that grows in the eastern United States and Canada could make low-fat baked goods more palatable to the health-conscious consumer, according to a new study published this week.
Researchers asked 114 people to taste test three types of muffins – a higher-fat recipe that used vegetable oil and two low-fat alternatives, one made with applesauce and the other with pawpaw, a fruit that tastes similar to mango or banana. Study participants rated the muffins made with pawpaw as highly as those made with oil and more desirable than those made with applesauce, said Ohio University nutritionist Melani Duffrin.
"A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Consumers might choose a low-fat food product if they think it tastes as good as the full-fat product," said Duffrin, an assistant professor of human and consumer sciences in the College of Health and Human Services and lead author of the study, published in the spring issue of Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal.
Participants ate the muffins in random order and ranked their appearance, tenderness, flavor, texture, aftertaste and overall acceptability on a scale from 1 to 9, with one being the most favorable response. Overall, the pawpaw muffins were rated between 1.7 and 3.5, or about the same as the higher-fat muffins.
Both the applesauce and pawpaw recipes use less oil (one tablespoon) than the other muffin recipe, which called for one-quarter cup of oil. But participants expressed some dissatisfaction with the texture of the foods made with applesauce. The pawpaw muffins scored higher marks in this area.
Duffrin used a puree of the pawpaw fruit in the study to determine if it would be a better fat substitute than applesauce. Pawpaw has a higher fat content than apples – about 13.5 percent fat compared to 5.5 percent fat in an apple – but the study suggests its taste and texture may make it a better ingredient to use.
"Fat does have a function in food," Duffrin said. "It adds tenderness and texture. When you replace fat you run into problems."
The only thing the participants didn't like about the pawpaw muffins was their appearance: Some commented that the pawpaw treat was too dark in color.
Duffrin suggests consumers may accept the puree of the pawpaw as a fat substitute in commercial food products or a food item itself, good news for cultivators and fans of this fruit.
The pawpaw trees, which are about 20 to 30 feet tall, can grow in various regions of eastern North America, as far north as Ontario, Canada, as far south as Florida and as far west as Nebraska. The fruit, about three to six inches in length, has a tough green skin and orange or yellow pulp, with about six almond-shaped seeds. Pawpaws haven't been commercially successful because they have a shelf life of only three days.
But the fruit is undergoing a small revival across the country, and other universities are conducting research ranging from horticulture to medicinal uses of the pawpaw tree. Duffrin used a puree provided by an Albany, Ohio, company that hopes to revitalize the pawpaw industry by producing frozen fruit products.
"Appalachian Ohio has economic problems, but if the region develops new products it could create new jobs and farms," she said. "Really, one of the benefits of the study was to create a spring board for the pawpaw. There is some food research on the pawpaw out there, but it appears there needs to be more."
In the future, Duffrin hopes to conduct more studies on whether the general public will accept pawpaw as a common food item. Her next study will explore ways to preserve and use the fruit.
Co-authors of the study were David Holben, assistant professor of human and consumer sciences, and undergraduate student Matthew Bremner.
Materials provided by Ohio University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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