Grapes in space: NASA-funded study develops polyphenol-protein rich recipe

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Cookelma/iStock
Photo: Cookelma/iStock

Related tags Nutrition

A study published in the March 2016 edition of Food & Function by NC State Plants for Human Health Institute researchers found that cranberries, muscadine grapes, and blackcurrant can make a protein-packed, polyphenol-filled shelf-stable product.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has provided funding​ for the team to further develop a space-friendly nutritional bar based on the formula they found in the previous study​, which used ingredients provided by Just the Berries, Ocean Spray, and the Muscadine Products Corporation.

“The manuscript from the NASA work—using functional, edible protein-polyphenol aggregate to produce high protein bars that do not undergo the phenomenon called 'bar hardening' and thus have a highly extended shelf life—is currently being written up for publication,”​ Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of NC State Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina State University and lead researcher for the study, told NutraIngredients-USA.

The team has been invited to submit to the journal Food Hydrocolloids ​before the end of 2016.

Berry-based recipe

According to Dr. Lila, the team used its protein-polyphenol functional particles, created from cranberry polyphenols and whey proteins, “to produce 'power bars' using a standard recipe used at NASA in Houston.”

The team followed NASA’s high-protein bar recipe, “however we produced the bars with 30% of the whey protein modified with natural cranberry phytoactive polyphenols (extracted from cranberry juice or cranberry pomaces).”

By blending protein with polyphenols, the team found that there was a dampening of the natural reactivity of the proteins. “Proteins remain reactive even in a food formulation - this is why a foam structure will separate or a bar will harden,”​ she said. “By binding polyphenols to proteins, we block the reactivity of the proteins, as well as impart the health-protective properties of the natural fruit phytoactive compounds to the food.”

Good for space, good for earth too

The shelf-stability caused by attenuating protein’s reactivity “makes sense” not just for astronauts, but also for consumers on earth Dr. Lila said. “It makes sense for astronauts who must face a [months long] mission to Mars, but it is also a strategy for providing portable, shelf stable protein-rich foodstuffs for multiple applications (backpackers, military operations, etc.)”

Additionally, the resulting product is hypoallergenic.“One of the 'reactivities' that we want to depress in an edible protein is the allergenicity of some proteins—like peanut proteins which have allergenic epitopes (regions) on the protein molecules,”​ 

“The polyphenol binding to these allergic epitopes both masks and changes the conformation of the proteins to attenuate allergenicity—essentially it is a way to produce naturally hypoallergenic food ingredients,”​ she added.

Source: Food & Function
Published in print, March 2016, DOI: 10.1039/c5fo01499a
“Formation of whey protein–polyphenol mesostructures as a natural means of creating functional particles”
Authors: Margaret Schneider, Debora Sposito, Mary Ann Lila, and E. Allen Foegeding

Related topics Research

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1 comment


Posted by Dr. Michael Helm - Dynamic Nutrition Lab,

I'm still wondering what NASA really is.
The group of 5 founders include people like Alistair Crowley (sex-occultist), Walt Disney (Hollywood-Fantasy) and Ron Hubbard (scientology-founder). Any suggestions?

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