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Adding nutritional punch to instant noodles

The go-to quick meal for university students could be improved with Prairie peas

Quick, easy and tasty, but a bit too high in fat and salt and a bit low in nutrition. Ever-popular instant noodles could be improved, based on results of Canadian International Grains Institute research focused on developing new uses for Canadian pulses.

Since 2014 Cigi has been conducting a four-year project funded by Pulse Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in consultation with industry to investigate the quality, functionality and nutritional value of pulses as a commercial food ingredient.

“We’re looking at the effects of processing and optimizing pulse ingredients for specific applications,” says Heather Hill, project manager, pulse flour milling and food applications. “Cigi has evaluated the use of yellow pea flour in instant noodles and breakfast cereals. Work on either pasta or extruded snacks is planned for 2017. Yellow peas were selected to explore potential opportunities as ingredients since acreage grown is relatively high but use for food is limited.”

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Deep-fried instant noodles are consumed in more than 80 countries and are valued for their low cost, easy preparation, favourable flavour and long shelf life, she says. However, instant noodles are also high in fat and low in nutritional value (protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals).

Cigi has been investigating how particle size of the pulse ingredient as well as post-milling heat treatment affects end-product quality, Hill says. “For noodle work we heat treated the yellow pea flour through an extrusion process to partially cook or gelatinize the starch or flours to not only change their flavour profile and offset any strong raw pea taste, but their functionality as well.”

Yellow peas were milled into coarse semolina, heat treated, and then roller milled into flour. Non-heat treated yellow pea semolina was also milled and re-ground into flour. Each pea flour was then blended at a level of 20 per cent with CWRS flour for instant noodle processing. CWRS flour was also used to process a wheat control sample for comparison.

The right texture

Results revealed that the wheat noodles had the most acceptable texture followed by those made with non-heated treated pea flour and heat treated pea flour, respectively. Acceptable texture is characterized by a firm bite, a common consumer expectation from the traditional use of wheat and the gluten it contains in the processing of noodles. Noodle elasticity was reduced in noodles made with the pea flours.

Many consumers, depending on the demographic, prefer a rubbery elastic sensation with a smooth surface when eating noodles. In addition, noodles made with the heat-treated pea flour had less pea flavour.

“The non-heat-treated pea flour had a slightly stronger flavour whereas the heat-treated pea flours had less flavour but noodle texture became much softer,” says Hill. “This is interesting because different markets value different attributes. Consumers (of instant noodles) in Asia would find texture is paramount whereas in North America consumers are more sensitive to flavour. It’s very important to know how processing changes certain quality attributes.

“We are now looking at the next steps, taking what we have learned in this work to continue with optimization,” she says, noting that different ingredients can be added to improve flavour and texture.

An important benefit found in the analysis of the instant noodles made with 20 per cent yellow pea flour was a three per cent increase in protein over the wheat instant noodles, and a five per cent increase over a retail sample, Hill points out. The finding is significant as further optimization can be done to increase protein levels to possibly achieve a nutrient content claim. Levels of nutrients such as iron, niacin and potassium were also found to be higher in the noodles made with pea flour.

Hill adds that future plans include engaging a commercial noodle manufacturer to help direct noodle optimization and determine what nutrients are important to them in product development.

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