Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

April 11, 2006 11:42 ET

AAFC: Tipsheet-April 2006

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - April 11, 2006) -

Canadian Technology Improves Korean Dish

Kimchi is to Koreans what the potato is to Canadians. Kimchi, the Korean national dish, is a spicy, fermented side dish. It is generally made using Chinese cabbage, to which red pepper powder, garlic, ginger and shrimp paste is added. While the popularity of this product is growing around the world, there is one problem: kimchi has a short shelf life of only a month.

A team of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers has succeeded in developing a new fermentation process that now makes it possible to prolong the shelf life of kimchi to a year without pasteurization or preservatives. Thanks to this technology, kimchi can now be eaten as a fresh and tasty dish all year round, with improved safety over the traditional process. This technology will also make it possible to produce kimchi on an industrial scale for export. A dish rich in vitamins and proteins, kimchi is considered by many to be a food with beneficial health properties.

Soy Good!

A number of studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of soy on health, and legumes have always been a favourite dish in a balanced diet. But how can the most reluctant people be convinced to eat tofu? Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are meeting this challenge by attempting to adjust foods to the liking of Canadian consumers rather than trying to change consumers' tastes. These teams are developing soy protein products for use in common foods - puddings, veggie burgers, drinks - for the general population and also for people with certain food allergies. Because soy protein is able to hold water and flavours, it can be used to good advantage in low-fat foods.

To further improve the taste of these foods, our researchers want to understand how the proteins hold flavours and, at the same time, are trying to tone down the typical beany taste. They are also studying ways to use soy as a vehicle for introducing functional ingredients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, into foods. The best part of this story, though, is that these plant proteins are manufactured or extracted using environmentally friendly technologies in which the use of chemicals is minimized, while protecting the integrity of the natural proteins.

Kefir: the Champagne of Milk Products

Yogurt is perhaps the best known fermented dairy product in Europe and North America, but kefir is also now appearing in many stores. True kefir can only be made using a starter culture called "kefir grains". Unlike yogurt, kefir contains a large number of different bacteria closely related for the most, and so scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada use sophisticated molecular biology techniques to identify them with certainty.

Kefir is one of only a few fermented dairy products that contain yeasts. Some of those yeasts, like for beer and wine, produce carbon dioxide gas which gets trapped in the kefir and gives it its effervescence when consumed. That's why kefir is called "the champagne of milk products".

During the fermentation process to produce kefir, the bacteria and yeasts break down the milk and give kefir its unique taste and composition. Another result of the kefir fermentation is a large number of low molecular weight peptides. Experimental results of a collaborative research project using a mouse model have shown that some of these peptides interact with the gut wall cells and stimulate the immune system, which may help protect against disease and infection.

The multidisciplinary team is also studying the production of a polysaccharide called kefiran, which is found in kefir and is also recognized to stimulate the immune system. Kefiran has also been shown both to prevent the onset of some cancers and to stop or reverse the growth of some cancers in animal models.

Probiotics: Encapsultated

Probiotic bacteria prevent the development of harmful bacteria, contribute to proper digestion and assist in physiological functions such as the immune and cardiovascular systems. To be beneficial, however, probiotics must reach the intestines...

Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are working to help probiotics negotiate the steps through food processing, from contact with oxygen and transportation to your spoon, on to the acidic underworld of your stomach. Surviving this journey is no mean feat since oxygen is toxic to many probiotics. In fact, weeks on a grocery store shelf can seem like decades to probiotic bacteria!

The trick is for the research team to create tiny capsules for these bacteria, capsules much like the one in the 1987 movie Innerspace in which Dennis Quaid and his vessel are miniaturized and sent travelling through Martin Short's body. (The older generation will remember the movie's predecessor, Fantastic Voyage, with Raquel Welch.)

Probiotics can be housed in tiny alginate beads, alginate being an algae extract similar to pectin and commonly used to thicken sauces. In these alginate beads, probiotics can stand all trials and can even survive freezing, quite necessary in iced milks or frozen juices. At the end of their odyssey, the alginate beads, which look a bit like tapioca, gradually dissolve in the intestines, releasing their probiotic passengers. Consumers will however have to give the "good to go" before industries add these friendly microbial vessels to food.

Plant Defences Protect People

It's hard to resist the taste or smell of anything with cinnamon or vanilla. Well some oils extracted from cinnamon and vanilla are among a number of plant derived essential oils being studied by researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for their antimicrobial activity.

Plants contain essential oils (volatile components) that defend them from insects, fungi, bacteria and other destructive invaders. Some of these oils have been recognized as safe in flavourings, preservatives and over-the-counter formulations of medicines since ancient times. They have even been used in the manufacture of perfumes throughout history.

Now with the urgency to find natural control measures for food borne pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella, essential oils are being studied as one of many innovative strategies to protect both humans and animals by reducing harmful bacteria through their diets and by minimizing use of dietary antibiotics. Some essential oils have demonstrated the merits that they were able to kill bad bacteria without destroying the beneficial bacteria from the intestinal tract of animals.

Another "Bread of Life"

What usually comes to mind when soybeans are mentioned is traditional Asian fare like tofu and miso. Many know the benefits from the bioactive constituents in soy but do not know the versatility soybeans have for creating new foods and adding a novel twist to traditional products like bread, pasta and snack foods.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is part of a multidisciplinary team under the Food Research Program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs that is led through the University of Guelph. This is the first value-chain approach in soybean research that not only focuses on the development of soy foods, but also on how the active constituent isoflavones are absorbed and utilized in the human body. Efforts are concentrated on enhancing the bioactive, constituent isoflavones in soybean whose role in the prevention of chronic disease is well documented scientifically.

Demonstrating the benefits of manipulating isoflavone content in a manner that can prevent or reduce human disease coupled with the creation of unique and desirable functional foods will add value to this already important crop by exploiting the endless potential of the humble soybean for food and much more. These new soy products will have lasting economic benefits by providing consumers with healthy, tasty, exceptional foods that will be a part of a nutritious diet.

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