K-State gluten-free research growing

Kathryn Deschenes, a master’s degree student in food science at Kansas State University, has a personal interest in improving the quality of gluten-free products on the market.

Both she and her mother suffer from celiac disease, a digestive disease that makes people sick when they eat products containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many cereal grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It helps give bread dough the elasticity that makes it rise.

“Ten years ago, the products available were awful,” says Deschenes, a native of Ellsworth. “My mom always made her own bread. Our local grocery store didn’t carry anything, but now she can get different flours and crackers there.”

Deschenes was studying journalism at K-State when she met Fadi Aramouni, a professor of food science, whose research was centered on developing new food products using gluten alternatives, at a tire shop.

“We were talking about celiac disease and that’s what he said he did his research on,” Deschenes says. “He said he’d be interested in having someone with the disease in his lab as a better taste tester.”

Key Points

• Kansas State University student has a personal interest in gluten-free food.

• Student with celiac disease serves as a taste-tester for new food products.

• Research looks at new foods with better taste and health benefits.

Deschenes’ taste buds have helped Aramouni and Ashley Pruett, a master’s student in food science from Atchison, create several new products, many of which they presented at the annual meeting and food expo of the Institute of Food Technologists, held 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 United States, 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 says.

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 sorghum’s grain hardness; the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fiber in it; the quality of the dough it made; 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, because it turns out that the particle size during milling will affect the properties of the sorghum flour,” Aramouni says.

With help from the grain and science industry department at K-State, as well as a USDA 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 effect on the glycemic index; it could provide a lower glycemic index compared to other grains,” Pruett says.

Aramouni says he hopes this research benefits Kansas farmers by providing more use of their sorghum, and he 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 says.

Source: Kansas State University News Service

Edwards County farmers find niche growing food-grade sorghum

The growing market for gluten-free flour is already benefiting a group of farmers in Edwards County.

The group has a contract to deliver 40,000 bushels of food-grade sorghum to the Dodge City Archer Daniels Midland mill this year.

The farmers are working on a contract to produce another 15,000 bushels next year for a company in Australia that wants organic, gluten-free flour from grain sorghum.

Southern Plains Cooperative manager John Welch says he is hopeful that with just a couple of rains, the crop will be good enough to fill the contract.

“For a normal year, we are probably overplanted for that yield at about 300 acres, some irrigated and some dryland; but this year, we’re just hoping to make it,” he says.

The crop still looks pretty good overall, he says.

“We didn’t get as good a stand as we would have liked because it was so dry when we planted,” he says. “But we got a couple of timely showers, and it’s a pretty decent stand. We will need a rain or two to finish it, but I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

He says the farmers growing the crop feel pretty fortunate to get in on “ground zero” of the market for food-grade sorghum flour.

“This is really a good opportunity for some of our guys that have smaller wells: to get in on a new niche market that provides them a chance to grow a profitable crop,” he says.


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GRAIN SORGHUM: Kansas is usually the nation’s top producer of grain sorghum. This grain was used almost exclusively for animal feed until the last decade, when demand for gluten-free products brought new markets in the human food chain.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.