Scientists have converted native starches, such as cassava, wheat, and corn, into dietary fiber that can be added to foods to make them healthier without changing their texture, color, or flavor.
Researchers at RMIT University worked with Microtec Engineering Group, a technology-based engineering company that supplies starch processing equipment, to develop the starch-based product, called FiberX, which resists digestion in the human intestine, just like the fiber.
FiberX is not only bland and tasteless, but is also suitable for fortifying low-calorie, low-GI foods and can be gluten-free, or adding to low-fiber foods such as white bread, cakes, pasta, pizza, and sauces for make them healthier.
Project leader from RMIT’s Center for Food Research and Innovation, Associate Professor Asgar Farahnaky, and his team used advanced starch modification technology with approved food-grade materials to create what they describe as “invisible fiber.”
“We can now add additional fiber to foods like white bread and other staples without changing the taste or texture, which has been one of the main problems with many commercially available fiber supplements to date,” he said.
“Our product is not even noticeable once added. It’s like a parent hiding vegetables in a child’s food to make it more nutritious.”
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digested in the human intestine and can help improve the health and function of our digestive system. It can also help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and reduce risk factors for some cardiovascular diseases.
Increasing the fiber content of food products by more than 10-20 percent while maintaining a pleasing taste and texture is a challenge throughout the food industry. Today’s foods with added fiber may have a hard texture or a different flavor than the original product.
As part of the research, Farahnaky’s team conducted taste tests and texture analysis on bread and cakes with varying amounts of FiberX added. They found that they could add up to 20 percent fiber to food while maintaining the product’s original flavor and texture.
“This new technology means that we can increase the amount of fiber that is included in food so that we can meet our recommended daily intake, even while eating less food, which has the potential to help with weight management and diabetes,” he said. .
Co-investigator and principal research fellow at the rector, Dr. Mahsa Majzoobi, said the structure of the starch was modified at the molecular level and tested to see how it reacted with digestive enzymes.
“Once resistant starch goes through this process, it must have high levels of resistance to count as a successful conversion to dietary fiber,” he said.
Using this new technology, the team can convert more than 80 percent of starch into dietary fiber, Majzoobi said.
FiberX was tested using internationally approved methods at RMIT and the accredited Australian Export Grain Innovation Centre.
Farahnaky said his team is now looking at the next phase of the FiberX technology, which will use eco-friendly alternatives to convert starch into fiber.
Farahnaky said that beyond the health benefits, FiberX technology also had the potential to improve supply chain challenges, reduce food waste and increase local jobs.
“Australia currently exports large amounts of grain to create value-added products such as plant-based meat. We then have to import these products back into Australia and wait for them if there are supply chain delays, as we saw with COVID,” Farahnaky said.
“Instead of growing and exporting more grain, we should be using existing grain to create value-added products here in Australia.”
To do this, Microtec and RMIT’s Center for Food Research and Innovation have also partnered with the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Center to prevent the fiber- and starch-rich by-products of plant protein production from going to waste.
Farahnaky said that by processing this waste into dry starch, FiberX technology can convert starch to fiber on a large scale.
“This partnership will not only help reduce food waste on a large scale, but will lead to the creation of new premium quality food products that are high in dietary fiber,” he said.
With the help of Microtec, FiberX technology is now ready for use by the food industry in large-scale production of dietary fiber.
“This new technology will enable the production of dietary fiber through a cost-effective and energy-efficient process on a large scale,” Farahnaky said.
“Scaling up this technology will mean that the food industry will have access to large amounts of invisible dietary fiber at an affordable price to provide high-fiber foods to consumers.”