Research now underway will provide the means to develop novel forms of bread, and other foods, which contain increased amounts of soluble fibre, making them far healthier than they currently are.
Soluble fibre (such as that found in fruit, vegetables and grains like oats) may be beneficial to health through its actions of lowering blood cholesterol levels, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, which is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in Europe.
Soluble fibre may also help in the control of adverse effects of Diabetes mellitus because it produces a reduced post-prandial (after eating a meal) glycaemic response (blood sugar level).
The research programme, called Solfibread and being carried out by researchers at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, under the aegis of the EU Flair-Flow programme, is designed to provide and implement technologies, including the use of naturally-occurring enzymes, to increase the amount of soluble fibre from wheat and barley in bread products that are acceptable to consumers.
Wheat and barley contain arabinoxylan and beta-glucan respectively and these can be present in a soluble or insoluble form. The insoluble form can be transformed into the soluble form through the use of enzymes.
Preliminary results from the project showed that in comparison to standard bread-making wheat, the barley (from which the outer layers, otherwise known as the hull, had been removed) contained high levels of glucans and flavanoids. However, further research in the second year of the project revealed that barley beta-glucan may be affected through the different stages of standard bread making in a way which may reduce its beneficial constituents.
The group has already been successful in developing and implementing, on an industrial level, the technology for milling hull-less barley into flour, which will be useful in bread making, but also in other food applications with increased soluble fibre levels. They will now continue their work to find bread manufacturing conditions which could minimise degradation of beneficial beta-glucans.