Sometimes the most innovative creation is something that seems exactly like something else, but is actually profoundly different.
Such are the regular-looking and good-tasting bagels being eaten at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.
They look like regular wheat bagels. They taste like regular wheat bagels.
But the human lab rats consuming the bagels inside the centre never know if they are eating a regular wheat bagel, or one with 30 percent pea flour.
The same goes for the Chinese steam buns the centre makes and tests with human subjects. They are supposed to look and taste just like regular steam buns, but some contain 50 percent pea flour.
“A lot of people say it’s like biting into a cloud,” said Kaitlyn Cuvelier, a graduate dietitian, as she worked in the Richardson Centre’s laboratory-kitchen making steam buns and bagels for test humans.
“When I started (here), I’d never heard of a steam bun.”
Researchers are trying to develop normal-seeming wheat bakery products that can carry high levels of pulse flour, and still taste good.
“How can we up the protein levels, how can we up the fibre levels to a degree that’s really physiologically beneficial, has real effects, but still is good as a product,” said Nancy Ames, an Agriculture Canada scientist, as she outlined the challenge of these food development projects.
Including pulse flour while changing the flavour of a bagel or bun isn’t acceptable. Including a tiny amount of pulse flour in a normal-tasting bagel or bun isn’t good enough if the pulse content doesn’t improve the health impact.
To be a valid product that can both please the consumer and be scientifically proven to have an improved health impact takes a lot of work.
“It’s not easy to put a lot of components into something,” said Ames, noting that getting 20 grams of proteins into a 100 gram, normal-seeming bagel is a challenge. “We wanted this to be a perfect bagel.”
Cuvelier said the products are designed at the Richardson Centre.
“We start with the nutritional targets we’re trying to meet,” she said, checking out some recently baked examples, one with 30 percent pea flour, one with 12 grams of pea fibre and one with 20 grams of pea protein.
The research gets funding from a number of sources. The centre, which is part of the University of Manitoba campus, houses Agriculture Canada scientists, works closely with the Manitoba government’s Food Development Centre, brings in money from a variety of sources including farmer groups and works with private companies developing products.
This project is partially funded by prairie pulse grower groups.
The steam buns are an important component of the project because the Asian market is a growing destination for Canadian farm products with big potential for more.
Ames is working with a Chinese government scientist to include pea flour in steam buns because of the health benefits that could bring. The Chinese government is interested in developing better food for its people, so this kind of work is drawing interest from its food industry.
Once the bagel formulation process is done, they are given to human lab rats in a controlled experiment. The test subjects, who eat prescribed food for extended periods and submit to blood and other tests measuring the food’s impact, are a constant element on the upper floor of the centre, which has a cafeteria feel very different from the hard-core science feel in the rest of the building.
The present bagel testing program is almost done. Once complete, the data analysis will commence, collating the various impacts of the pea and non-pea bagels, trying to find the true impact of something they believe should have a certain result.
If the results are as good as expected, there could be a new market for a western Canadian crop, appearing as part of an old and commonplace product.