Can delicious and nutritious pasta get any better? Technical specialists at the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) say “yes” and they’re working on the recipe to prove it.
By substituting a portion of the traditional durum semolina with barley or pulse flour, they’ve come up with a version of spaghetti that’s higher in fibre without significantly altering the look, taste or cooking quality of regular wheat-based pasta.
Peter Frohlich worked with pulses in a project funded by the Saskatchewan and Manitoba Pulse Growers, while Chris Lukie did his investigations through CIGI’s food barley project.
Both projects aim to incorporate more barley and beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils into foods North Americans already consume, thereby creating more markets for farmers and healthier foods for consumers.
The whole-grain barley spaghetti Lukie worked on contains far more fibre than found in a traditional wheat-based spaghetti. Pulses add extra protein to this commonly eaten food.
The barley pasta was made with a 25 per cent whole-grain hulless barley flour blended with 75 per cent durum semolina, Lukie said. They chose that blend because it is one processors could introduce without upgrading equipment lines. Hulless barley varieties were selected because they’re easy to process. Two regular starch varieties, Millhouse and Mc-Gwire, plus a waxy variety, were tested.
A serving of spaghetti that includes fibre-rich whole-grain barley adds five grams of dietary fibre, one gram of which is soluble fibre, to the diet. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends daily fibre intake of 25 grams per day.
The waxy variety is the richest source of soluble fibre, noted Lukie.
Studies show soluble fibre, found in oats and barley, but not wheat, can help lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.
Sensory evaluations have not yet been conducted on the barley spaghetti. It’s not bright yellow such as 100 per cent durum pasta, but Lukie doesn’t see the colour as being a significant concern. It’s different, but “I think people are now much more accepting of brown colours in their food,” he said.
Likewise, blends of pulse flours also produce a nutritionally superior pasta, that’s higher in fibre with only minor colour variations. To make his spaghetti, Frohlich experimented with blends of chickpea, whole yellow pea and white navy bean flour as well as pea fibres from three different commercial sources.
Flour substitutions ranged anywhere from 10 up to 50 per cent. They find pulse flour and pea fibre added at higher levels tended to change the taste too much. It also affected cooking texture, Frohlich said. Increased levels of bean flour also affects the colour, firmness and cooking loss.
At lower levels, such as 10 to 30 per cent, they get more promising results. For example, a 30 per cent chickpea flour substitution produced a spaghetti with good quality attributes, including a mild flavour and acceptable texture and colour.
Importantly, these pulse flour substitutions boost the dietary fibre content in the spaghetti too.
“With bean flour we’re up to almost four grams of fibre,” said Frohlich.
Ashok Sarkar, head of milling and pasta technology at CIGI says North America is likely where these pastas will gain the most market acceptance. North Americans tend to make food selections less based on tradition and more on convenience.
“We also have, for whatever reason, a greater awareness about nutrition being imparted through cereal-based foods,” he said.
Work is also under way at CIGI to incorporate flaxseed into pasta products.
But don’t expect to see pastas on store shelves containing these ingredients for a while. Commercializing any new product is a huge investment for a food processor. Many research questions also remain unanswered. “This work is in its infancy right now,” said Frohlich.
To date, only Italian pasta giant Barilla, formulates a brand of pasta products using ingredients such as lentils, chickpeas, flaxseed, oats and barley.
Linda Malcolmson, CIGI’s director of special crops, oilseeds and pulses, says the time has never been better to look for ways to use pulses and barley as functional food ingredients in conventional foods. Food companies are looking for ways to differentiate their products, she said. “I feel quite optimistic that we will engage food companies because I think they are looking for alternative ingredients for both nutrition and functionality.”
The barley pasta investigations were part of the larger food barley project underway at CIGI and funded by Canadian Wheat Board, Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Program (ACAAF) and the Alberta Barley Commission. Saskatchewan and Manitoba Pulse Growers funded the pulse flour studies.