Research at Kansas State University could give consumers with celiac disease more food product choices and expand the sorghum market for Kansas farmers.
Celiac disease is a digestive disease triggered by eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.
"Ten years ago, the products available were awful," said Kathryn Deschenes, master's student in food science, Ellsworth, who has celiac disease. "My mom also has celiac disease. She always made her own bread. Our local grocery store didn't carry anything, but now she can get different flours and crackers there."
Deschenes helps Fadi Aramouni, professor of food science at Kansas State University, develop new food products using gluten alternatives.
Food science wasn't always Deschenes' career interest. She started at the university as a journalism major until meeting Aramouni at a tire shop.
"We were talking about celiac disease and that's what he said he did his research on," Deschenes said. "He said he'd be interested in having someone with the disease in his lab as a better taste tester."
Deschenes' taste buds have helped Aramouni and Ashley Pruett, master's student in food science, Atchison, produce several new products, many of which they are presenting at the annual meeting and food expo of the Institute of Food Technologists, June 25-28, in Las Vegas.
Their research centers on sorghum, a grain produced all over the world. In the United States, Kansas is usually the largest producer.
"In the U.S., it was mostly used for feed, but with the growth in the gluten-free market and the availability of food sorghum, we have now started seeing a lot more sorghum used in these types of formulations," Aramouni said.
They started from the bottom up by figuring out which of six varieties grown in Kansas would work the best in a tortilla. They studied the grain hardness, the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fiber in it, the quality of the dough it made, as well as how well the tortilla stretched and rolled and how good it tasted and looked.
"From that first piece of research, we realized there is a lot more to be done at the milling stage of this, because it turns out that the particle size during milling will affect the properties of the sorghum flour," Aramouni said.
With help from the grain and science industry department at K-State, as well as a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Manhattan, the researchers have developed several products, including tortillas, breads, Belgian waffles and waffle cones. They also took it one step further and evaluated the gluten-free products' glycemic index in comparison to other grains like wheat, corn and rice.
"We discovered there possibly could be a specific particle size of sorghum flour that will have the best affect on the glycemic index; it could provide a lower glycemic index compared to other grains," Pruett said.
Aramouni said he hopes this research benefits Kansas farmers by providing more use of their sorghum and is also glad they can help gluten-free consumers like Deschenes.
"It's important because for people who need to eat gluten-free food, better products are needed," Deschenes said.