Making edible, nutritious wrappers
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[AUG. 17, 2005]
Although oregano may be best known for its use as a spice, it also
has antioxidant properties that can help prevent cardiovascular
disease and antimicrobial properties that can help prevent food from
spoiling. Researchers at the University of Illinois set out to
develop a film made with oregano and soy protein that could be used
to cover sausage, candy or other products. The film would be clear,
edible, provide preservative help to the product and have the added
health benefits of being antioxidant as well as containing soy
Graduate student Edel Pruneda-Olguin said that, unlike the edible
casings commonly found on sausages in the U.S., the wrapping on
sausages in Mexico, where he is from, must be taken off first.
In the lab, Pruneda-Olguin mixed soy protein isolates in the form
of powder and an edible plasticizer (i.e., glycerol and sorbitol),
then added dried Mexican oregano. The essential oil of the oregano
was already extracted and discarded so that the remaining powder
could be mixed with water easily.
The potential hurdle for this project is the color change of the
film when the oregano extract is added. A clear film was developed
only when oregano extract was not added. It was the control sample
of the project. "The more oregano extract is added, the more
antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits," said Pruneda-Olguin. "But
the films also turn darker brown in color, making them less
desirable as a food wrapper."
One of the next phases of the project will be to test the edible
wrapper to see if it has retained the antioxidant properties in the
oregano throughout the processing.
Pruneda-Olguin is one of 38 students who have come to the U of I
to study through a USAID-TIES grant. He has been working on
developing applications of oregano extract to the soy protein films
in Soo-Yeun Lee's laboratory in the Department of Food Science and
Human Nutrition in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and
[to top of second column in this article]
Elizabeth Jeffery and Elvira de Mejia facilitate the grant
program and are charged to enhance and sustain institutional
linkages between Mexico and U of I. "The aim of the program is to
enhance teaching, research, cultural education to meet Mexico's
needs," said de Mejia, "to build a wider bridge and strengthen the
mutual understanding between the U.S. and Mexico."
The program has already resulted in more than 20 joint
publications in international peer-reviewed scientific journals and
has given the professors at U of I a better understanding of the
agricultural and food problems in Mexico.
CONACYT, the Mexican equivalent of the U.S. National Science
Foundation, signed an agreement in early 2005 to fund 50 Ph.D.
students to come to the U of I to study over the next five years and
to provide the funds for joint research projects. The grant will
provide $2 million over five years to pay tuition and living
expenses for three years of graduate study in value-added plant
foods for Mexico's brightest young scientists.
[Debra Levey Larson,
University of Illinois]
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