SIGNIFICANT opportunities exist to transform Australian-grown oats into novel food products designed to be consumed outside of breakfast and specifically for Asian markets.
The Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) has been investigating the suitability of Australian varieties in several food products, starting with rice and noodles and moving into functional ingredients, such as thickeners, semolina and bubble tea pearls.
However, after working on these product lines for several years, AEGIC is still on the lookout for commercial partners to take the concepts to consumers.
AEGIC research scientist Sabori Mitra told the International Oats Conference held at Perth, Western Australia and virtually yesterday, that fortifying these foods with oats increases its health benefits as well as being almost indistinguishable from the traditional products.
She said the Australian oat industry can capitalise on the increased consumer demand for healthy and functional products, which is especially notable in Asian markets.
“We do see that in Asia there is an increase in lifestyle diseases and consumers are becoming more interested in incorporating healthy grains, such as oats, in their diet,” Dr Mitra said.
“During our in-market visits in Asia…we were introduced to the novel oat food products, which are traditionally consumed there and also commercially available, but we saw that there was huge room for improvement in these products for it to be more commercially viable.”
Dr Mitra said current commercially available products often had a very limited shelf life and some were overly or incorrectly processed in a way which removed one of the key nutrients, β-glucan, a type of dietary fibre.
She said as the largest importer of Australian oats, China was a key focal point of the research, alongside other Asian markets, including India.
Key product lines which kicked off the project were oat noodles and rice, with AEGIC aiming to create foods which had demonstratable health benefits that meant consumers would pay a premium.
Dr Mitra said the development of a 100 per cent whole grain oat noodles was the culmination of the work, with AEGIC able to create a product that combined the health benefits of oats with the higher fibre of whole grain flour.
“We developed a product that had very good eating quality and… is very versatile and has good commercial viability.”
She said researchers were also able to create oat rice lines, developed using a process known as ‘pearling’, that were suitable for most traditional rice dishes and had similar texture and taste.
Dr Mitra said researchers have branched out into further processing raw oats into functional ingredients which can be used in other product lines and can provide added nutrients.
“We have innovatively processed our oats, and we generated some healthy ingredients, such as oat fractions which we have used as functional ingredients as thickening agents and for fortifying.
“We have generated semolina from oats which we have used in traditional Indian dish style application and also for making couscous.”
She said the oat ingredients also performed well in traditional Asian foods, such as Indonesian sweet buns and bubble tea pearls.
Despite putting the call out in July 2021, AEGIC are yet to finalise any commercial partners for these novel foods.
Dr Mitra said the organization is in the process of partnering with companies which can manufacture these lines on a commercial scale.
“We wish to commercialise these product concepts and we are looking for opportunities to collaborate with companies.
“We are in the process of doing that and we have some interested companies.
“We also welcome that if anyone is interested in our product concepts to connect with us.”
Dr Mitra said researchers are also partnering with oat breeders to develop varieties that may perform better in these products.
“[W]e are currently looking at the varietal impact of Australian oats on this innovative processing technologies and we wish to feed this information to our breeders to help them set new breeding targets.”
Organised by the Grain Industry Association of WA, the International Oat Conference ran from Tuesday, October 11 to Thursday, October 13.
The Australian oat industry is taking centre stage as speakers and delegates converge from countries as far afield as Sweden, Chile, China, the USA, Austria, Canada and many others.
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