University of Alberta researchers have teamed up with an Alberta food manufacturer to make it easier for Canadians to get the health benefits of barley and oats.
They’ve developed a dry, concentrated form of beta glucan – found in the cell wall of barley and oats – that is easy to use in food processing applications, and could be added to products like baked goods, nutrition bars, pasta, noodles, processed meats, spreads, mayonnaise, and dressings, etc.
Beta glucan has multiple proven health benefits, including positive impacts on cardiovascular health, weight management, gut health, and diabetes management, and has approved health claims for heart health in Canada, the United States, and Europe. It’s also approved for glycemic controlin Europe.
Oats and barley are excellent sources of beta glucan, but people must consume significant quantities of oat and barley products daily to get the amount needed – three grams per day – to realize the health benefits.
“Beta glucan has multiple health benefits in a single ingredient and can play a good role in helping people manage their health,” explains Dr. Vasanthan. “Our concentrated form of beta glucan up to 30 per cent (dry weight basis) can easily be incorporated into a variety of foods and doesn’t require people to eat three bowls of oatmeal a day just to realize its health benefits.”
He has developed a patented method for fractionating grain – separating grain components to produce certain concentrates that can be used in food processing applications – and has partnered with Global Foods Canada to develop and commercialize the technology through pre-pilot and pilot studies.
It’s beta glucan’s viscosity that’s the key attribute for health. When consumed, beta glucan and water together form a thick network that works its way through the human digestive tract, trapping bile acid and excreting it instead of sending it back to the liver, which forces the liver to pull more cholesterol from the blood to make up for the loss.
“Barley or oat meal/porridge at home is slimy and thick; that is the presence of the beta glucan. All digestive processes and gastric emptying slow down due to the thickness, so you feel full for a longer period of time,” he explains. “The digestion of starch and absorption of sugars also slows down, which is a diabetic benefit because you can control blood sugar levels.”
The product Dr. Vasanthan has developed is a dry concentrate called Cerabeta, which contains up to 30 per cent beta glucan, costs about 3.5 cents per serving, and is an eligible food ingredient for health claims in Canada, the U.S, and Europe.
Pilot and commercial scale testing is ongoing to help establish prices for both primary and co-products, develop product formulations, and determine how to present the products to the market place.
To isolate grain components, Dr. Vasanthan has developed a low cost system that uses air-currents in combination with sieves to achieve separation. It’s easily automatable and simple to scale up to pilot scale fibre production.
"We have spent a lot of time optimizing the operating parameters,” he says, adding they’ve also developed nutritional panels for Cerabeta, as well as a spec sheet for potential Cerabeta customers.
Researchers have also teamed up with a grain grower in Saskatchewan to ensure they’ll have a consistent supply of the right barley varieties for their product.
Why is this innovation important?
Health: Globally, heart attack, diabetes, and obesity are rising – beta glucan can help alleviate these health issues.
Economics: It’s a low cost technology that is easily scalable to pilot and commercial settings and will make it easier for consumers to get the necessary amount of beta glucan in their diets.
Markets: Canada’s barley production is increasing – the country currently ranks seventh in global production – and the industry is looking for ways to add value to the crop.
What does this innovation mean to Canada’s food processing industry?
Bringing new barley-based or beta glucan-enriched food products to market depends on the availability of cost-effective processing. This technology is an inexpensive way to incorporate healthy beta glucan into many food products, like baked goods, nutrition bars, pasta, noodles, processed meats, spreads, mayonnaise, dressings, etc.
About Global Foods Canada
Global Foods mills organic and regular wheat, rye, barley, oat and flax to produce breakfast cereal blends, waffle and pancake mixes, flours, and smoothie boosters. Their products are sold in five Canadian provinces and one territory.
About the project team
Dr. Thava Vasanthan is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta, where he focuses on grain processing science and technology. He holds a BSc in Agriculture – Food Science and Technology from University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, an MSc in Food Technology from University of Reading in the United Kingdom, and a PhD in Food Science from Memorial University in Newfoundland. Based on the technologies developed in his research lab, he has founded two companies, Cevena Bioproducts Inc. and GranFrac Inc., and taken them to commercial stage.