Sweet potatoes shouldn't be just for holiday cooking. At least that's the finding of food scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in New Orleans, La.
In their search for a light, fluffy pancake that's acceptable and safe for those who've had to banish wheat from their diets, ARS chemists Fred Shih and Kim Daigle found that a flour made from rice and sweet potatoes is a superior substitute. Both scientists work at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans.
Individuals diagnosed with celiac disease, which may be as prevalent as one in 200 in the global population, are unable to digest gluten. For them, gluten proteins found in wheat, rye and barley--grains used in numerous American foodstuffs, from breads and cookies to noodles and beer--trigger an autoimmune response that can lead to serious health problems.
Shih's rice- and sweet potato-based pancakes are not only suitable for those suffering from celiac disease and wheat allergies, they're also standouts in terms of their antioxidant content, with 56 percent more beta carotene than traditional wheat-based pancakes. The body uses beta carotene to make vitamin A, an important immune booster and possible cancer preventer.
Shih and Daigle, whose findings were published in the Journal of Food Quality, experimented with different amounts of sweet potato flour. Then they scrutinized the pancakes' textural and nutritional properties. They evaluated the cakes' hardness, cohesiveness, springiness and chewiness--attributes that figure greatly when it comes to flipping, and noshing on, the perfectly textured flapjack.
In the world of gluten-free foods, textural qualities are especially important. Since gluten proteins provide dough and batter an essential visco-elasticity, baked goods made without them run the risk of being flat, brittle and jaw-achingly dense.
In the end, Shih and Daigle found that the ideal pancake contained 20 to 40 percent sweet potato flour--information that food companies specializing in high-quality, gluten-free products should readily gobble up.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
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