Research could help feed world

Emma Dejong

Emma Dejong

Sitting in a room full of more than 950 people from 80 different countries, food science graduate student Sowmya Arra had no idea she was about to be singled out in the huge auditorium. Hearing her name, she was thrilled.

This past June, Arra and her advisers attended the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conference in Anaheim, Calif. Arra took first place in the Product Development Division for the poster she made, which described the new discoveries she and her advisers made on converting an ethanol byproduct into food. Her prize was $1000 in cash and a certificate.

“When I saw this, I was surprised and I was happy,” Arra said. “I didn’t expect anything.”

Arra’s academic adviser, Padmanaban Krishnan, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Hospitality, and her thesis adviser, Kurt Rosentrater, a Bio-Process Engineer for the United States Department of Agriculture, have been collaborating their research for five years to study a completely new way of using distillers dried grains (DDG).

DDG is created on ethanol plants, beginning with corn. Once corn is broken down into ethanol and carbon dioxide, what is left behind is DDG. This product is extremely high in protein and fiber, which is what has Krishnan and Rosentrater so interested.

Currently, DDG is only used for animal feed; however, Krishnan and Rosentrater have found a way to use it as a food product. Once the oil is removed and it is processed to be as tasteless and colorless as possible, it resembles wheat flour. Then, depending on the food, it can be mixed to produce a food with a high content of protein and fiber.

“You can put it in bread; you can put it in cookies,” Krishnan said. “We’ve done that. I can hide it with chocolate chips; I can hide it with strawberries.”

Arra’s job has been to work in the laboratory with various food products, testing them to see how much DDG can be added without making noticeable changes in the food.

“[Arra’s] aspect is the science part of it,” Krishnan said. “It’s partly science and partly art.”

One food that Arra has discovered can hold a large amount of DDG is chapathi, an Indian bread that is similar to a tortilla.

“Chapathi seems to work much better (than bread), just because of the nature of the way the product is made,” Rosentrater said. “We’re continuing to investigate on the potential food products. We’re really thinking global.”

Arra, Krishnan and Rosentrater see the high concentration of protein and fiber in DDG as a way of possibly making a difference with world hunger issues.

“There’s a demand out there,” Krishnan said. “The world is hungry for new ingredients.”