‘Super-spaghetti’ formulated with barley

A barley spaghetti, rich in fibre and antioxidants, could have a host of health benefits, such as reducing cardiovascular diseases, says its creators.

GRANADA, SPAIN (REUTERS) – European researchers have developed what’s been dubbed ‘super spaghetti’, which its creators believe could help cut the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Team member Vito Verardo, of the University of Almeria, had postulated that barley – which is rarely used in ingredients for pasta formulation – could be an ideal grain for use in spaghetti, replacing the traditional constituent of wheat. Like oats, barley has a high fibre content, but has a more suitable flavour.

“The first stage was to search the best variety of barley that had the highest quantity of bioactive compounds,” Verardo told Reuters. “For this we analysed 15 different varieties of barley and we established the best varieties that could be used for air classification. The second step was the establishment of air classification technology for this kind of barley and we obtained with this technology two fractions (fine and coarse). The coarse fraction represents 40 percent of the total barley flour.” The latter fraction was used to enrich the pasta.

The team used air classification – an industrial green technology that separates the flour by size, shape, and density; thanks to this technology they used the whole barley flour and avoided the production of milling by-products.

A coarse fraction represents the fraction of the solid particles in a soil sample having grain sizes greater than 0.003 inches (0.075 mm) in diameter.

Betaglucans are soluble fibres that occur naturally in the cell walls of cereals. In recent years scientists have shown them to have a wide variety of potential benefits. They exist in only a small number of foodstuffs, such as oats, barley, mushrooms, and edible seaweed.

According to chairman of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), Miguel Toribio-Mateas, they have been investigated for immune-modulating properties and beneficial effects on obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cholesterol levels. Betaglucans are also reported to be highly fermentable by human gut flora in both the small and large intestine, which helps enhance the growth and diversity of health-promoting bacterial species.

The team, led by Ana Maria Gomez, from the University of Granada, insist they are not seeking to claim the spaghetti, now licensed by two Italian pasta makers, should be classified as a health food. But they say it meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements to be labelled a ‘good source of fibre’ and that its hypocholesterolemic compounds reduce the level of cholesterol in blood. It also contains 70 percent of the daily amount of betaglucans that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) say are required to help lower cholesterol.

“They are hypocholesterolemic compounds, so they reach the FDA requirements of some health claims about heart disease. With only one serving per day of this barley pasta we formulated we have 70 percent of the daily requirements of betaglucans which are the soluble fibre contained in this pasta,” she said.

Gomez says that the nutrients that would usually be lost into the water during the boiling process can be locked in by adding gluten to the mix.

“We have found that they are very rich in flavan-3-ols, that have antioxidant compounds and they are in more or less the same concentration that are found in green tea, which is famous because of these compounds,” said Gomez. “These antioxidants are very concentrated in this barley pasta. The only problem would be that we can lose them by cooking. However, the gluten that we add to the pasta helps to slowly release these phenolic compounds.”

According to Verardo, air classification – a green technology – allows use of functional flours incorporating the whole cereal grain, avoiding the waste by-products usually associated during the milling process.

“Air classification is considered green technology because it uses only a flow of air and not solvent,” he said. “With this technology we can obtain a richer fraction of bioactive compounds without the use of solvents, for this is very healthy for the consumers and for them it is a good way for the environmental point of view.”

Toribio-Mateas says he is excited “to see food technology implementing knowledge on bioactive compounds such as betaglucans and green tea catechins into everyday products.” He told Reuters by email: “I believe in five years’ time this will be the norm, and that many compounds that individuals have been taking as food supplements for years will be incorporated into foods so that they benefit from their health-promoting effects.”

The research was a collaboration involving the universities of Bologna and Molise, and published in Food Research International magazine. The American Chemical Society (ACS) dubbed the product ‘super-spaghetti’ in its journal.