The need to widen the range of products for consumers with food allergies or intolerances has led the food industry to consider raw materials other than cereals.
As an important source of nutrients and bioactive compounds, cereals are at the base of the Food Pyramid. Thanks to their versatility, they can be found in a high number of food products for any sorts of consumption.
The main nutrient is starch, followed by protein fraction, whereas lipids that are in the seed represent a small amount that is characterized, however, by the presence of bioactive compounds (unsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, sterols and steryl esters). Fibres and phenolic antioxidants can mainly be found in the seed as well as in the external parts of the caryopsis.
Wheat germ and product shelf life
The germ and the external parts of the caryopsis do not belong to conventional flours forshelf-life and food safety purposes. In fact, the germ is rich in proteins and lipids that cause instability since they are highly unsaturated and therefore easily oxidizable by a chemical and enzyme action; therefore, the nutritional value decreases, unpleasant tastes and smells as well as potentially anti-nutritional compounds appear.
However, the external parts of caryopsis, rich in anti-oxidant substances and fibre, are exposed to fungal attacks and even toxins (aflatoxins). Yet, available technologies can help in properly managing germ, as a by-product, through adequate treatments and storage conditions and also in hygienically controlling bran in order to check if it contains undesired substances.
Nutritional indications that state or suggest that a product has some beneficial nutritional properties, like “low-fat”, “no added sugar” or “high fibre content” are assessed in accordance with EU regulations1
Nutrients and functionalities
A part from a wide range of conventional products, from bread to baked products and pasta, cereal-based foods are suitable for enrichment in order to become functional thanks to their versatility.
Beside the obvious and significant contribution of a specific nutrient in terms of daily need through a correct dose from a nutritional point of view, food functionalities shall consider and evaluate different characteristics, i.e.
- the nutrient bioavailability;
- its “survival” to the treatments required for enriched food by production technology;
- the permanent presence of the bioactive compound all through the shelf life of the product;
- the quality of the enriching process;
- the enriched food must be sensorially accepted by the consumer (a strategic approach).
The absence of undesired molecules when using by-products shall also be considered. For instance, if external parts of the caryopsis are used, the presence of aflatoxins or other polluting substances that may be contained in by-products shall be assessed.