Plant & Food Research is the New Zealand Crown research institute responsible for the research and development that adds value to vegetable, fruit, crop and food products. Their research teams bring together scientists, nutritionists and food manufacturers to make new foods that taste great and are healthy. At the same time, they also want foods that will provide different amounts of energy for people to match with their lifestyle needs.
Making new foods from vegetables
We know that vegetables are good for us. They are a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals – things our bodies need to keep healthy and function properly.
Scientists at Plant & Food Research have discovered that starches in vegetables have different physical and chemical properties from starches in cereals, such as wheat and barley. This means that foods made with vegetable starch are digested more slowly than foods made with wheat starch. This has the added bonus of leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
How does starch fit in?
Starch isn’t the only component of vegetables. They also contain other carbohydrates, proteins and fibres. Like starch, the way these other components are arranged in a food can affect the way a food is chewed and the speed with which it is digested. Scientists can tell more about how a food will be processed during digestion by looking at how the starch is arranged in foods.
It’s not all good news
Adding vegetable material to foods may make them better for you, but vegetable characteristics are not always appealing. Would you want to eat a green snack bar that tastes and smells of overcooked broccoli? Scientists at Plant & Food Research are investigating ways to remove unwanted vegetable properties like colour, taste and odour from vegetable materials.
Fighting the fart factor
An unwanted effect of eating some types of vegetables is flatulence or farting. One of the causes of flatulence is the breakdown of vegetable fibre by bacteria in the gut. As part of this process, gas is produced, which builds up and makes you fart. Most people find this embarrassing. Scientists at Plant & Food Research are using simple laboratory processes and plant breeding techniques to remove the fart-causing fibre.
From one bean to one billion beans
The research into how to remove unwanted colour, taste, odour and flatulence effects from vegetable materials is first done in a laboratory environment. But when food manufacturers want to make enough food for sale within New Zealand or for export overseas, they will need to use tonnes and tonnes of vegetable material.
Adapting processes from the laboratory to a commercial production line is called scaling up. A first step is often to try out the laboratory techniques in a pilot plant, which is larger than a laboratory but smaller than a full factory operation.
When production processes are scaled up, it is important to check that the final product is the same as the product first made on the laboratory bench.
The FOODBOWL supports New Zealand food companies to develop new products and expand into new markets. Read about it in the article, Facilitating food innovation in New Zealand.