By Katarina Smolkova, Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge (SPARK)

Prof. Jayne Bock.
Prof. Jayne Bock. Photo by Alaina Osborne

Whole wheat pasta is a high-fibre, healthy alternative to traditional white flour pasta, but its texture may be too soft for some people. Now, a University of Guelph researcher is trying to change that by studying how gluten influences texture, so that manufacturers can make whole wheat pasta more palatable.

Prof. Jayne Bock, a food science researcher, hopes this will help consumers increase their fibre consumption.

“We want consumers to consume more whole-grain products because of the health implications associated with fibre in whole grains,” says Bock.

Currently, the problem with whole wheat pasta is its soft texture, which doesn’t give a firm bite. “It’s very mushy, and people pick up on that,” she says, calling it a barrier consumers face in eating healthier versions of their favourite foods.

Her research focuses on understanding how gluten – a wheat protein that provides structure and elasticity to the product – behaves in whole wheat, compared to its refined version. She says understanding that behaviour will help processors achieve a texture that pleases pasta consumers.

So far, she’s found that whole wheat pasta exhibits a looser type of gluten structure, which doesn’t hold starch granules in place. When these starch granules “leak” into the cooking water, the pasta loses its firm texture.

Results also show that the drying process is critical for keeping the gluten structure intact and for producing the texture consumers prefer in refined white flour pasta. The key is what’s called “low-temperature, long-time drying” as opposed to the typical high-temperature, short-time drying used for white pasta. The former technique minimizes the impact of heat exposure on the gluten structure and keeps the gluten network intact.

“We’re trying to remove texture as one of those barriers to consuming whole wheat pasta,” says Bock. “If we can make the texture between the two products similar, that is one less thing the consumer has to overcome in order to motivate them to consume that product.”

Bock says the research will have far-reaching implications. For manufacturers, the results will offer a road map for creating more favourable textures that appeal to consumers, and consumers will have a healthier pasta alternative that is rich in fibre.

“Everybody should get more fibre,” says Bock. “If I can help be part of that effort to improve the properties of fibre-containing products, especially whole grains, I’m pleased.”

This research is part of a bigger texture and flavour pasta project in collaboration with industry partner Mondelez International, the University of Milan and U of G. Prof. Lisa Duizer, Department of Food Science, is the principal investigator. Funding was provided by the Mitacs program in conjunction with Mondelez International Mississauga Mill.