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New sugar may help fat, thin alike.

No-calorie substitute for flour

It started as a project to make the crop residues fed to cattleand other ruminants more digestible. But the end result may be a no-calorie, high-fiber substitute for flour that can reduce by 10 to 20 percent the caloric value of baked goods.

While ruminants can digest cellulose, up to 40 or 50 percentof that found in straw and certain other feeds is locked into an indigestible matrix by lignin, a natural cement-like polymer, explains chemical engineer Brian K. Jasberg. Realizing, however, that some fungi remove lignin through a peroxide treatment, Jasberg and his co-workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Northern Research Center in Peoria, Ill., worked out a similar process. Bathing cellulosic materials in dilute hydrogen peroxide removes more than half of the lignin. What's left is a more porous cellulose--something they call "fluffy cellulose'--that provides ruminants about the same nutritional value as corn.

Since humans can't digest cellulose, however, it providesthem no calories. And that got the researchers thinking about its potential as a source of dietary fiber. They tested it by baking various forms--derived from wheat straw, sugar-beet pulp and citrus pulp, for example--into cakes. Not only did the cakes bake up larger, but because the fluffy cellulose holds more moisture than baking flour, they were moister as well.

Jasberg reports that a panel of 15 trained taste testerscouldn't distinguish between chocolate cakes made with baking flour only and those in which 40 percent of the flour was replaced with fluffy cellulose. Jasberg estimates that, depending on the desired moisture content of the backed good, 30 to 50 percent of a recipe's flour can be replaced with one of these cellulose-based fibers. Four companies have been granted exclusive licenses to commercialize baking-flour substitutes based on the USDA procedure.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 18, 1987
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