Monash University researches why people find some foods disgusting

The thought of consuming an insect-based snack bar or smoothie as part of a staple diet could make even those with the strongest of stomachs squirm. Monash University researchers try to find out why.

They are trying to understand why the ‘disgust’ mechanism of the brain prevents people from trying foreign foods that actually possess health benefits – in this case, insects.

Professor Eugene Chan from Monash Business School’s Department of Marketing conducted two separate studies into the link between the state-of-mind and emotional reaction to newly-introduced foods.

The results were published in the international scientific journal, Food Quality and Preference.

READ: Monash University professor recognised for 30-year study to bring millions worldwide safe water supply

The first study measured the willingness of 202 participants to try five different insect-based products, from deep-fried silkworms and crickets, to chocolate chip cookies that were baked with cricket flour.

In the second study, 155 participants were presented with two drinks with identical positive health benefits – but one was a by-product of silkworm protein and the other from ordinary cow’s milk.

Participants in both studies were subjected to mindfulness exercises – including guided meditation, breathing training and listening to a 15-minute audio track that induced a mind-wandering state – and had never consumed insects previously.

“Despite being presented with the positive health and environmental benefits as motivational factors to choose insects as a viable food and nutrition source, we found that participants reacted with disgust and instead opted for the more ‘familiar’ food source,” said Chan.

“These findings were completely opposite to my initial expectations. Entomophagy (the consumption of insects) is not a new practice and has been taking place for tens of thousands of years. More than two billion people world-wide regularly eat insects as part of their diet and there are more than 2000 edible insect species.

“I anticipated that mindfulness might have encouraged people to try insects as it removes some of that initial negative reaction to a foreign food. Perhaps disgust is an emotion that is too negative and powerful to influence a behaviour change,” said Chan.

Chan’s research also found that the role of disgust in food choice is not just restricted to eating insects. It also includes trying new foods or cuisines that are an intrinsic part of a culture foreign to one’s own.

“Blue vein cheese, which is characterised by mouldy spots and a foul odour, may be present at many social functions and the family dinner table which could please some people but disgust others. Even being presented with offal and unfamiliar fruit and vegetables could enliven our ‘disgust’ mechanism – despite the contents being perfectly edible,” Professor Chan said.

“While this research only focuses on testing the impacts of mindfulness on a person’s willingness to try insect-based foods, it is possible that increased self-awareness might produce different – perhaps even positive – reactions towards actually eating insects.

“Although our attitudes towards insect eating is generally negative, individuals who actually try insect-based foods may respond more favourably than their initial attitudes predict,” said Chan.

Mindfulness, commonly associated with Buddhism, refers to the state of being aware and taking note of what is going on within oneself and the outside world.

International studies have shown that mindfulness can deliver positive eating behaviour by treating various eating disorders and altering consumption patterns.

Platypus milk may help save lives

Platypus milk has taken a step closer to being used to fight superbugs and save lives, thanks to a team of researchers at CSIRO working with Deakin University.

In 2010 scientists discovered that platypus milk contained unique antibacterial properties that could be used to fight superbugs.

The new research solves a puzzle that helps explain why platypus milk is so potent. The discovery was made by replicating a special protein contained in platypus milk in a laboratory setting.

“Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry,” CSIRO scientist and lead author on the research published in Structural Biology Communications , Dr Janet Newman said.

“The platypus belongs to the monotreme family, a small group of mammals that lay eggs and produce milk to feed their young. By taking a closer look at their milk, we’ve characterised a new protein that has unique antibacterial properties with the potential to save lives.”

As platypus don’t have teats, they express milk onto their belly for the young to suckle, exposing the mother’s highly nutritious milk to the environment, leaving babies susceptible to the perils of bacteria.

Deakin University’s Dr Julie Sharp said researchers believed this was why the platypus milk contained a protein with rather unusual and protective antibacterial characteristics.

“We were interested to examine the protein’s structure and characteristics to find out exactly what part of the protein was doing what,” she said.

Employing the marvels of molecular biology, the Synchrotron, and CSIRO’s state of the art Collaborative Crystallisation Centre (C3), the team successfully made the protein, then deciphered its structure to get a better look at it.

What they found was a unique, never-before-seen 3D fold.

Due to its ringlet-like formation, the researchers have dubbed the newly discovered protein fold the ‘Shirley Temple’, in tribute to the former child-actor’s distinctive curly hair.

Dr Newman said finding the new protein fold was pretty special.

“Although we’ve identified this highly unusual protein as only existing in monotremes, this discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general, and will go on to inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre,” she said.

In 2014 the World Health Organisation released a report highlighting the scale of the global threat posed by antibiotic resistance, pleading for urgent action to avoid a “post-antibiotic era”, where common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

The team of scientists at CSIRO and Deakin are seeking collaborators to take the potentially life-saving platypus research to the next stage.

Image:  ©Laura Romin & Larry Dalton




Discovery shows wine grapes gasping for breath

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered how grapes “breathe”, and that shortage of oxygen leads to cell death in the grape.

The discovery raises many questions about the potentially significant impacts on grape and wine quality and flavour and vine management, and may lead to new ways of selecting varieties for warming climates.

“In 2008 we discovered the phenomenon of cell death in grapes, which can be implicated where there are problems with ripening. We’ve since been trying to establish what causes cell death,” says Professor Steve Tyerman, Chair of Viticulture at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus.

“Although there were hints that oxygen was involved, until now we’ve not known of the role of oxygen and how it enters the berry.”

Professor Tyerman and PhD student Zeyu Xiao from the University’s Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production have identified that during ripening, grapes suffer internal oxygen shortage. The research was in collaboration with Dr Victor Sadras, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), and Dr Suzy Rogiers, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the researchers describe how grape berries suffer internal oxygen shortage during ripening.  With the use of a miniature oxygen measuring probe – the first time this has been done in grapes – they compared oxygen profiles across the flesh inside grapes of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Ruby Seedless table grape.

They found that the level of oxygen shortage closely correlated with cell death within the grapes. Respiration measurements indicated that this would be made worse by high temperatures during ripening – expected to happen more frequently with global warming.

“By manipulating oxygen supply we discovered that small pores on the surface of the berry stem were vital for oxygen supply, and if they were blocked this caused increased cell death within the berry of Chardonnay, essentially suffocating the berry. We also used micro X-ray computed tomography (CT) to show that air canals connect the inside of the berry with the small pores on the berry stem,” said Xiao.

“Shiraz has a much smaller area of these oxygen pores on the berry stem which probably accounts for its greater sensitivity to temperature and higher degree of cell death within the berry.”

Professor Vladimir Jiranek, Director of the University of Adelaide’s ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, said: “This breakthrough on how grapes breathe will provide the basis for further research into berry quality and cultivar selection for adapting viticulture to a warming climate.”

The study was supported by the Australian Government’s Industrial Transformation Research Program with support from Wine Australia and industry partners.

Chickpeas for breakfast?

Imagine sitting down to breakfast and pouring ice cold milk on your bowl of chickpeas. It might become a reality thanks to Charles Sturt University (CSU) research into innovative processing techniques to add value to pulse crops.

CSU PhD candidate at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains (FGC) Stephen Cork is investigating the potential for pulses like chickpeas to be processed into flakes for breakfast and snack foods.

“Pulses like chickpeas are high in protein, low in fat and are a great source of minerals and B vitamins but many Australians don’t meet the recommended dietary intake of one to three serves of pulses per week,” Cork said.

“The low consumption has been attributed to the time and effort required to prepare them, which typically involves soaking and boiling for over one hour, and the need to modify sensory attributes such as texture and flavour.

“My research is focused on understanding how processing technologies can support new product development, in particular for incorporating pulses into ready to eat breakfast foods, a market worth $33 billion globally.”

Working with Woods Foods, a family owned pulse processor in southern Queensland, and Uncle Tobys, Cork’s research aims to better understand the factors needed to turn chickpeas into flakes.

“The different chemical compositions of cereals and pulses means that there’s a need for research into how to apply a processing methods like flaking to pulses,” Cork said.

“My research is examining how pre-treatment, flake formation and secondary processing impacts the behaviour and quality of the product.

“It’s hoped the development of new products will diversify markets for Australian pulse producers to support further growth of the industry.”

Cork presented his research at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Update in Wagga Wagga on Tuesday 13 February. More about the GRDC Update here.

Cork was awarded a scholarship by FGC. Funded by the Australian Government through the ARC’s Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme, the FGC is administered by Charles Sturt University and is an initiative of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation. His research is supervised by FGC Director Professor Chris Blanchard, Dr Asgar Farahnaky and Professor John Mawson.




Junk food can harm teenagers’ mental health, say researchers

A poor diet and obesity can lead to mental health problems in adolescents, according to researchers from the University of Tasmania.

The association between overweight/obesity and depression is known, but this new research, led by Professor Wendy Oddy from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and using participants from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, focused on a possible biological pathway.

The study found that ‘healthy’ dietary pattern (high in fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains) protects against depression in adolescents through reduced body mass index and associated inflammation.

In contrast, a western dietary pattern (high intake of red meat, refined and takeaway foods, confectionary) is associated with increased depression risk in adolescents most likely through increased body mass index and underlying inflammation.

Approximately 1,600 Raine Study participants were surveyed at the age of 14 years, and more than 1,000 at 17 years, for the study. Questionnaire answers on food and nutrient intake at 14 years were cross-referenced with a mental health questionnaire and clinical data on body mass index (BMI) and inflammation three years later.

People in the study were asked about their usual dietary intake in the past year and their diet was classified as either mainly ‘Healthy’ or ‘Western’. Withdrawal, social problems, anxiety, depression and physical symptoms were assessed by mental health questionnaire.

Professor Oddy said the research indicated a complex association between dietary patterns, overweight/obesity, inflammation and mental health problems, including depressive symptoms. “Scientific work on the relationship between mental health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy, but this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships,” she said.

Professor Oddy said her team of researchers is now studying specific food components and nutrients to try and understand more about the biological mechanisms leading to mental health problems and depression in adolescents and young adults.

The research has been published in Brain Behavior and Immunity.

Chemicals used in food packaging, clothes may cause weight gain – research

A class of chemicals used for more than 60 years in products ranging from food wrappers to clothing to pots and pans may cause greater weight gain after dieting, particularly among women, according to research by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The chemicals—perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)—have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, immune dysfunction, high cholesterol, and obesity.

The study also found that higher blood levels of PFASs—known as “obesogens” because they may upset body weight regulation—were linked with lower resting metabolic rate (RMR), or slower metabolism after weight loss. Metabolism refers to the chemical processes in the body that convert energy from food, commonly known as “burning calories.” People with a lower RMR, or slower metabolism, burn fewer calories during normal daily activities and may have to eat less to avoid becoming overweight.

The study was published online on February 13, 2018 in PLOS Medicine.

“Obesogens have been linked with excess weight gain and obesity in animal models, but human data has been sparse. Now, for the first time, our findings have revealed a novel pathway through which PFASs might interfere with human body weight regulation and thus contribute to the obesity epidemic,” said senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School.

Studies have shown that PFASs have contaminated drinking water near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants. These chemicals can accumulate in drinking water and food chains and persist for a long time in the body.


$11.1 million to support Australian vineyard profitability and management

Wine Australia and PIRSA’s South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have signed a 5-year $11.1 million co-investment agreement that will support the profitability of Australian grape and wine sector through a dedicated research and development program in disease management, vineyard resilience and clonal performance.

Under the strategic partnership agreement, Wine Australia will contribute $6.5 million and SARDI $4.6 million over 5 years, allowing for longer-term strategic investments that will benefit levy payers and the whole Australian wine sector.

Key grape and wine sector priorities to be addressed under this agreement include:

  • developing new and improved management strategies to prevent and control grapevine trunk diseases
  • developing strategies to manage fungicide sprays in a way that minimises the development of resistant populations of fungi
  • developing innovative irrigation practices to overcome the difficulties in maintaining vine productivity under dry winter conditions
  • understanding the causes of vintage compression and developing vineyard management options that increase the proportion of fruit harvested at optimal maturity
  • establishing Cabernet Sauvignon trials for future evaluation of clonal response to climate and management; and
  • maintaining germplasm collection to support national viticulture projects.

Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark said, ‘This agreement with SARDI reflects the high level of strategic alignment between our priorities for the sector and SARDI’s Strategic Plan to support the profitability of Australia’s grape and wine community.

‘Through this agreement, Australia’s growers and winemakers will benefit from more sustainable management of pests and diseases, and an excellent Australian-specific range of practical vineyard management practices to minimise the impact of climate change. It will also maintain capacity for biosecurity and future proof Australia’s grapevine germplasm collection.’

This agreement is the third in a series of bilateral partnerships between Wine Australia and major research institutions under a new research and development funding framework that aims to allow the Australian grape and wine community’s research partners to be better able to make strategic investments and plan for the future, maintain technical capabilities in key areas, and have greater flexibility to pursue promising research results within an overall agreed framework.

Kiwi academics develop new food design technique

Two leading academics have developed a new food design technique to help inspire the next generation of culinary designers, and make artistic food presentation more accessible to New Zealand restaurants.

The new technique developed in consultation with EPIC Otago Polytechnic R & D centre and The Food Design Institute at Otago Polytechnic allows chefs to produce large quantities of artistically designed food products by hand on a commercial scale with a small team, and at reduced cost.

Otago Polytechnic’s Timothy Lynch, who and lectures on sustainability in the food industry, says they wanted to present ingredients in a way that was consistent with multisensory food design concepts.

“The process involves working with natural products to design handcrafted foods that look identical to fruit and vegetables but are filled with contrasting flavours.”

“Initially we couldn’t find a way to make these products on a small scale, but a collaboration with the EPIC helped us overcome several barriers, and we were able to develop a method of crafting the lifelike products using food-grade silicon moulds, which we made ourselves,” he says.

Lynch says a project of this scale and complexity would require international assistance and a large team of scientists and food specialists. This would have made the project cost prohibitive by New Zealand industry standards, he says.

“Thanks to the ingenuity of some of our colleagues and the dedication of our staff and students we have managed to find a way to bring these food creations to life,”- says Lynch.

Senior lecturer Tony Heptinstall who has catered for Prince Charles and other royal family members says one of the objectives was to increase current industry capital through being part of an innovative collaboration between the food industry and education.

“We were conscious that in order to inspire the students we needed to take on a challenge that solved a real world problem and used design thinking at the same time,” he says.

“The technique involves making edible fruit and vegetables replicas from vegan white[HS1]  chocolate and So Good milks – ,” says Heptinstall. The hand moulded products are then filled with a variety of contrasting l recipe combinations using a diverse range of readily available ingredients including the nut milks.

“It’s not everyday that you get to have a dhal curry which is encased in tumeric chocolate and presented in a red or green chilli shell or an apple pie smoothie presented in an apple hanging on a tree. We’ve got a series of other quite contrasting flavours all designed to ‘shake up’ what a plant based diet can look like.”

“What we’re doing is not only highlighting the design evolution of the food we are able to create, but also embrace the contemporary movement towards flexitarian and vegetarian diets,” says Heptinstall.

“People are looking at food from not just a taste and health consideration but from a sustainability and environmental perspective,” he says.

Sanitarium’s marketing business manager Hayley Scott who approached the tertiary institution with the technical challenge said the outcome surpassed their expectations.

“We approached the polytechnic to help us come up with a way to show Kiwis how Non Dairy milks can be used creatively in kitchens around the country.

“Throughout their collaboration with their students and colleagues they have completely embraced this challenge and we have been amazed at what they have been able to produce

“We are thrilled to see it inspire students, the food industry and the general public as well,” she says

A proof of concept display has been created in the form of an entirely man made, edible garden where more than 3,000 hand-crafted fruit and vegetables will be made available to the public to sample.

The garden will be open to the public from February 8-9 between 11.30am-2.30pm at Takutai Square, Britomart, Auckland.

Teff: from ancient grain to gluten-free food products

Teff (Eragrostis tef) is the world’s smallest grain and one of the oldest plants, originating in Ethiopia at least 5000 years ago. It is a major food crop in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Outside Ethiopia, teff is grown in Nevada and Idaho, USA, with about 1,200 acres grown each year. Apart from the McNaul family, it has been grown in Australia in experimental quantities in areas of Tasmania and around Tamworth in northern New South Wales.

Teff is a gluten-free wholegrain and as such it has the potential to become in high demand as suitable for consumption by gluten intolerant and health conscious consumers.

Teff’s nutritional content

The scientific literature shows that teff is highly nutritious. Its protein content typically ranges from 8.7 to 11 per cent, similar to wheat, and it has a good balance of amino acids.

Teff flour has a high fibre content (8 per cent dry basis) – several times higher than wheat and rice, higher than sorghum, lower than oat and rye. It also contains the fermentable fibre, resistant starch.

The high fibre content is thanks to its small size. The bran and germ aren’t separated during the milling process thus it’s always consumed in wholegrain form.

Teff is also a good source of minerals and vitamins. It’s high in iron – around two or three times higher than wheat, barley and sorghum. It is also high in calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and magnesium. Teff presents in various colours, from white to brown, which is due to the high content of phenolic compounds.

Outback Harvest and product development

Rice has been the traditional crop for NSW Riverina farmers, son Fraser and father Shane McNaul, and they also grow corn and a variety of winter cereals and legumes. But they decided a couple of years ago they needed to diversify their cropping program to become more sustainable and innovative.

The agriculturally rich and diverse Riverina, with its warm to hot climate and ample water supply, makes their farm the perfect place to grow the ancient grain emerging onto the Australian market, teff.

The McNauls planted two varieties of teff, brown and ivory, three years ago. They started a company, Outback Harvest, and approached CSIRO and Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) to help them develop Australian-grown, gluten-free teff baked goods and extruded snacks that could bring this nutritious grain into the mainstream western palette.

“Without CSIRO and FIAL all we’d have been able to do would be a grain and a flour product,” Fraser said.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do the value-added products so in the long term we’re vertically integrating and that’s helping us out as farmers.”

Fraser has moved to Melbourne to concentrate on developing packaging, marketing and distributing the first retail products, which have been endorsed as gluten-free by Coeliac Australia and Coeliac New Zealand.

Food applications and new markets

Teff flour is traditionally used to make injera (fermented flat bread), kitta (sweet flat bread), chibito (unleavened kitta in balls) and anebabro (double layered kitta).

Unlike flat breads, because gluten is essential to form the spongy texture of baked leavened bread, developing acceptable bread texture with gluten-free flours is an on-going challenge for food technologists. Bread high in teff flour appears to be no exception. Further research into thickening agents or structural ingredients would be needed to successfully develop a gluten-free bread with a high proportion of teff flour.

Teff grain and flour are being imported to the US, Europe and Australia from Ethiopia into the health food store and supermarket sectors and used for making biscuits, cakes, flat breads and muffins in the home. Brown teff produces a darker coloured flour that has a chocolate-like look and taste to it and so is ideally suited to a product like muffins. The ivory teff produces lighter coloured flour with a nutty flavour and is perfect for something like pancakes.

Value-added teff products such as ready-to-eat or convenience foods for retail markets or at commercial scale are emerging. At the time these products were under development for Outback Harvest, there were no others on the market in Australia, although some have come on since.

Owing to its documented nutritional properties, potential new markets for teff could include specialty products for weight management and high nutrient content products like baby food, traditional medicines or supplements. 

What CSIRO did

The aims of this work were to demonstrate it was possible to prototype several new gluten-free products using teff as the main ingredient, and to investigate the impact of teff flour on the texture, colour and flavour of new products. CSIRO developed muffin premixes, bread and a crunchy extruded ball, which has potential as a new snack product or breakfast cereal. The McNauls have just commercialised the muffin premix and launched it onto the retail and wholesale health food sector nationally, and in cafés in Melbourne, Geelong and the Surf Coast in Victoria. Other products CSIRO developed are currently being patented.

“There’s been a lot of interest in the products because they’re Australian-grown and certified gluten-free,’ Fraser said.

“With CSIRO’s expertise in food innovation and new product development, and their facilities and expertise helped make it all happen,” Fraser said.

“We’re also looking at other value adding opportunities like snack bars, tortillas and flat breads, and exporting to Asia.”


CSIRO gene silencing technology continues to benefit agriculture worldwide

RNA interference (RNAi), a technology patented by the CSIRO, has given the world potatoes that don’t go brown, animal feed that’s easier to digest, safflower with high oil content and more.

Global forestry company, FuturaGene is the latest of public and privately funded organisations worldwide to license the technology which enables scientists to reduce or switch off the activity of single genes, with enormous benefits, especially in agriculture.

CSIRO has provided research materials to 3700 laboratories around the world and has issued more than 30 research and commercial licenses for RNAi to-date.

FuturaGene, a leader in plant genetic research and development for sustainable plantation forestry, will utilise RNAi technology to develop more resilient forestry crop varieties, primarily eucalyptus and poplar.

Technologies for preserving and enhancing yield in renewable plantations are an imperative for meeting growing wood demand in the face of climate change and increasing pest and disease threats, while preserving natural forests.

Other uses of RNAi technology include developing potatoes that don’t go brown, animal feed that’s easier to digest and an improved industrial oil.

Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Ming-Bo Wang, was one of the scientists involved in RNAi’s development in the mid-1990s, and together with colleague Peter Waterhouse, received the 2007 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for the work.

“One of the projects we were working on at the time was with the potato chip industry; we were trying to develop a virus resistant potato,” Dr Wang said.

“We discovered that when plants are attacked by viruses they use double-stranded RNA to mount a counter-attack.

“We realised we could make use of this ‘virus immune’ response to develop a mechanism that would stop individual genes from passing on information.

“At first we didn’t think much of it but when we realised we’d uncovered a fundamental mechanism for silencing genes, we knew there would be widespread applications.”

The RNAi mechanism was used by US company, Simplot to develop the “Innate” potatoes which bruise less than other potato varieties.

The potatoes also produce less acrylamide, a chemical which can accumulate in starchy foods such as potatoes when they are cooked at high temperatures.

Simplot is hopeful non-browning potatoes will reduce the costly and environmentally damaging issue of waste in the industry.

Forage Genetics has licensed RNAi to develop an animal feed that is more easily digested.

Alfalfa (or lucerne) is an important source of cattle feed in many countries.

One major challenge for farmers is that if harvested late, alfalfa can contain high levels of lignin, the fibrous material that is important for binding cells, fibres and vessels in plants.

Animals are unable to digest lignin.

HarvXtra alfalfa has up to 20 per cent less lignin, making it much more digestible for cattle. It can also be harvested seven to 10 days late without sacrificing quality.

CSIRO itself has made use of RNAi to develop a safflower seed oil that contains over 93 per cent oleic acid, a valuable component in industrial chemicals and lubricants.

Super high oleic oil safflower is being commercialised by GO Resources.

Dr Wang said that while there are more recent gene editing tools, RNAi will have a major role to play for many years to come because of its ability to silence multiple genes at the same time and tone down the expression of essential genes without killing a plant.

He said that CSIRO was continually developing new tools, technologies and techniques to improve RNAi delivery, potency and ease of use.





Healthy eating for shift workers

Working the graveyard shift or even pulling an all-nighter is an everyday reality for many employees in industries like entertainment, healthcare, security or transportation. This can be challenging for anyone. It is also hard to feel revitalized or rested enough to head back to work the next day – not to mention doing it again and again in shift work. So it is no wonder some describe the feeling like ‘a zombie chasing a caffeine drip’.

Although many shift workers say that they are used to working overnight, staying awake and inverting sleep patterns can lead to a number of negative consequences in the long run. In fact, it is common for shift workers to get shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)[1], which is characterized by insomnia. SWSD sufferers may constantly feel tired even when they have had enough time to rest. They are also more prone to making mistakes and causing accidents

Furthermore, night shift workers tend to turn to convenient food options (e.g., chocolate bars, sugary cupcakes) when they need an energy boost to stay alert and get them through the wee hours of the morning. However, such snacks may not provide enough nutrition or the healthy energy that someone staying up late often would need.

Yes, reaching for a night snack, especially a sweetened one, can help to offer a quick energy boost but it may also be bringing on precisely the kind of lethargic feeling that the night shift workers are trying to avoid. This is because sweet confectionary products, including cakes, chocolates and cookies, tend to contain a high ratio of conventional sugars and thus high glycaemic carbohydrates – the main culprits of the energy spikes and crashes.

It is especially important for shift workers, who already have to endure demanding sleep patterns, to eat healthily. Christian Philippsen, Managing Director for BENEO in Asia Pacific, explores how food manufacturers can cater to consumers seeking healthier snack options – snack food that provides sustained energy release without the subsequent energy crash.

Crashing from a sugar high

Many confectionery products are sugar laden and highly processed. They also often carry a large amount of high glycaemic carbohydrates that are digested very quickly, resulting in a fast and high release of glucose – the body’s main energy supply – into the bloodstream, thus causing an energy ‘spike’.

For night shift workers, these sugar spikes cause their blood glucose and insulin levels to rise, leading to an initial energy ‘boost’. However, these glucose stores are quickly depleted, causing a drop in blood glucose levels even below baseline, which translates to an energy ‘crash’, which is the sluggish feeling that people often feel after a meal.


Consumers choosing to eat healthier

 The benefits of all things healthy is impacting the consumer market in ways that could only be imagined a decade ago. Consumers these days are making an effort to eat healthier either to look or feel better or for health reasons. According to a Nielsen study, 60 percent[2] of consumers in Asia Pacific are choosing to eat less sugar and 54 percent are opting for more fresh or natural food.

Avoiding the ‘sugar crash’

Successful food manufacturers in tune with the market are offering consumers healthier options in view of demand trends. They are designing products that are suitable for low glycaemic dietary plans by incorporating functional carbohydrates such as BENEO´s Palatinose (generic name: isomaltulose), which can be used to fully or partially replace sucrose or other high glycaemic carbohydrates, for slower energy release.

Palatinose has a unique physiological profile that helps support healthy nutrition – especially with regards to blood glucose management. Although Palatinose is classified as a sugar, it has a special molecular structure that enables it to be seen as a “good” sugar.  Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is hydrolysed four to five times more slowly by the enzymes in our small intestine as compared to high glycaemic sugars, yet it provides the body with the full amount of energy (4kcal/g).    This results in a low glycaemic sugar that is fully digestible – thus making it ideal for providing sustained energy with gentler blood sugar levels that provide long-term benefits for glucose control, body composition and weight management.

Palatinose can be easily incorporated into various types of food and drinks. Derived from natural beet sugar, it has a sugar-like, mildly sweet taste and can be used in the development of a wide range of great tasting and healthy snack products, from cereals and baked goods, to dairy products and sports and energy drinks.

Getting through the graveyard shift

 Working the night shift is definitely not an easy task, and it can be one of the most challenging experiences when people have to do it for a long period of time. Nevertheless, we will continue to need shift workers, especially in today’s urbanising society and having cities that never sleep.

Shift workers need to get enough rest in the off hours, and watch what they eat. Food products that allow for slow, sustained energy release – such as those made with Palatinose and low in high glycaemic carbohydrates – are ideal. This way they help avoid the consequences of the extreme blood sugar peaks and dips, and can provide access to sustained energy release mechanisms and improved metabolic balance. Palatinose equips food manufacturers with the opportunity to formulate innovative snacks that not only taste great, but provide consumers with a healthier energy source.

[1] Shift work sleep disorder – WebMD

[1] We are what we eat – The Nielsen Company, 2015

Aussie company develops breakthrough healthier noodle formula

Australian company Holista CollTech and US-based Holista Foods have developed a noodle formula with a low Glycemic Index, which may help fight obesity.

The noodles developed by Holista’s Buffalo, New York-based U.S. subsidiary of Holista Foods Inc., recorded a GI reading of 38 in independent tests conducted by Glycemic Index Laboratories, Inc, Toronto, Canada. The global average GI reading for noodles is 60.

The GI reading indicates the rate in which foods containing carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels in humans, with a lower score indicating healthier food. More than 100 million adult Americans suffer from diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 million Canadians are living with the disease.

The Diabetes Canada has endorsed Holista Foods’ low-GI noodle formula as having met the latter’s dietary guidelines. Holista Foods is allowed to display the Diabetes Canada logo on its product.

In addition to the low GI reading of 38, each 85 gram serving of noodles contains 11 grams of protein, three grams of fibre, zero sugar, low sodium, low cholesterol and clean label ingredients (no artificial ingredients or preservatives) and cooks in just three minutes.

Holista Foods will showcase the low-GI noodles at the 2017 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago, Illinois, from October 21-24, and at the 2017 Diabetes Canada/CSEM Professional Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, from November 1-4.

According to market research group Statista, nearly half the world’s wheat is consumed as noodles, with China and Indonesia topping the list while a quarter is consumed as bread. The U.S. noodle market is worth US$270 million. The World Instant Noodles Association reports that global demand for instant noodles has declined from 106 billion servings in 2013 to 97.5 billion servings in 2016 as consumers continue to reduce the amount of processed foods, especially carbohydrates, from their diet.

The availability of low-GI noodles will provide consumers with a healthier option that does not compromise the taste and texture of the product. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report on “Tackling obesity in ASEAN (South-East Asian Nations)”, a low-GI diet was found to be the most effective among food-based interventions.

Holista Foods, headed by CEO, Ms Nadja Piatka, who has supplied healthier baked goods to major fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Subway, had announced in September 2016 its research efforts to develop the world’s first low-GI noodles using Holista’s low-GI ingredient, a patented formula that includes extracts of okra, dhal (lentils), barley and fenugreek.

Holista, a research-driven biotechnology and food ingredients company with operations in Australia and Malaysia, said it expects to conclude the first order for its low-GI noodles by November 2017.

In January 2016 Holista unveiled PANATURA(R)GI a patented formula co-developed with Veripan AG of Switzerland that achieved the world’s lowest GI reading for clean-label flour-based bread. This product is in the late stage of commercialisation.

Holista Foods is also researching to develop low-GI mixes for muffins, cakes, cookies and pancakes. Holista has also commenced research on a low-GI formula for sugar.


Apples that don’t go brown

This month, a special kind of sliced apple will go on sale at select US supermarkets, and thanks to CSIRO research these apples won’t turn brown when they’re cut, bitten or bruised.

Arctic apples, have been developed by Canadian biotech company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF).

OSF is the first company to license CSIRO’s non-browning technology.

Their first product will be snack-sized bags of fresh Arctic Golden apple slices, with more non-browning varieties expected in future years, including Granny Smith and Fuji.

Company founder Neal Carter began working on the apples in the mid-1990s.

“I came across research from CSIRO that had managed to ‘turn off’ browning in potatoes,” Carter explained.

“As an apple grower, I was very aware that apple consumption had been declining for decades while obesity rates had simultaneously been sharply rising.

“My wife and I felt that we could help boost apple consumption through a similar biotech approach with apples, as non-browning apples would be more appealing and convenient.

“We felt this could also significantly reduce food waste, as nearly half of all apples produced end up wasted, many due to superficial bruising,” he said.

While there may be other sliced apple products already on the market, these are often coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning and to preserve crispness, and this can change their taste.

Apples and other fruit and vegetables turn brown after they are cut or damaged because of a naturally occurring enzyme (polyphenol oxidase or PPO) that reacts with other components in the fruit cells when these cells are ‘broken’, producing a brown pigment.

CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene which, when inserted into plants, blocks the production of PPO and therefore stops the browning.

Spoilage due to browning costs food processing industries worldwide millions of dollars each year in wastage and costly chemicals to prevent the reaction.

This non-browning technology has potential to reduce waste not only in apples and potatoes but also in other important horticultural crops, such as beans, lettuce and grapes where produce with only small injuries could still be sold.

CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene which, when inserted into plants, blocks the production of PPO and therefore stops the browning. ©Okanagan Speciality Fruits
CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene which, when inserted into plants, blocks the production of PPO and therefore stops the browning. ©Okanagan Speciality Fruits

Food, drink and medicine breakthrough seeded

Worldwide production of food, beverages and medicinal plants could become cheaper and more reliable using information from a germination breakthrough by La Trobe University and the University of Western Australia scientists.

Growers of seeds, such as of rice for food, barley for beer and poppies for codeine, would benefit greatly from having control over when they germinate. The research, published in Genome Biology, is starting to decipher how a crop’s genome can control the time that a seed wakes up. 

“Scientists and crop breeders have been interested in seed dormancy and germination for a very long time,” said La Trobe University’s Dr Mathew Lewsey.

“They breed carefully to control it in many crops because it affects their yields enormously.”

With the knowledge gained from this research, Dr Lewsey hopes to perfect the genome-editing technology necessary to produce new plant cultivars that germinate differently, giving farmers the ability to precisely control when their crops are ready for harvest.

“We want to be able to control when seeds wake up and how quickly they do it,” he said. 

Dr Quentin Gouil, also of La Trobe University’s Centre for AgriBioscience, said the boon for food security around the world would be incredible for staple foods such as rice, corn and wheat.

“The production of beer and spirits would also benefit from this level of control, along with medicines such as morphine and codeine,” said Dr Gouil.

“Farmers and brewers can produce higher quality products if they know exactly when their seeds will wake.”

Colleague Dr Reena Narsai, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at La Trobe University, is excited about the opportunities that could arise from this research in coming years.

“Our next move is to transfer our findings from the model research plant Arabidopsis into crop plants such as barley and rice,” she said.

“New cultivars of plants that germinate as growers want would be permanently modified so that, when those plants are propagated, their seeds and the offspring from those would all have the new behaviour.

“We will look to generate varieties that have accelerated or slowed-down germination and will study how they control the genetic switches that turn this off and on.”

The study was conducted by researchers from the La Trobe University Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences at the Centre for AgriBioscience, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Western Australia.

Entries now open for inaugural Australian Chobani Food Incubator program

Aussie food starts ups with big hearts and big ideas can now apply to be part of the first round of the Australian Chobani Food Incubator program.

Since announcing the Australian arm of it’s extremely successful food incubator program just over a month ago, Chobani has received over 150 enquiries from food and beverage brands across the country looking to scale their business and take it to the next level.

Partnering with Monash’s Food Innovation Centre (FIC), the Chobani Food Incubator will combine the FIC’s facilities to support new product development, innovation, and quality with Chobani’s expertise in sales, marketing and customer engagement – creating the most holistic incubator program in the country.

The program aims to unearth and nurture innovative food start-ups who will challenge the system and shape the future of the Australian food industry.

The program specifically includes:

  • 4-month incubator from February to April 2018, online and on-site
  • 1 – 2 team members participating on-site with key Chobani team members
  • Monthly programs at Chobani locations, including manufacturing facilities and Monash’s Food Innovation Centre
  • Equity free capital: $10,000 grant to help grow your business
  • Travel, hotel and other expenses covered
  • Access to Chobani teams, top executives, and expert

Entries to the first round of the Australian Chobani Food Incubator program close on 30 November.

Image: Professor Nicolas Georges, Monash Director of Food and Agriculture, in the new food Incubator.


Adelaide to receive funding for grains research​

New grain research facilities worth more than $1.1 million will be established at the University of Adelaide Waite campus, to boost Australian grains research into improving drought and heat tolerance.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the funding was another important measure supporting the productivity and profitability of Australia’s grain industries through the development of more drought-resistant crops.

“The Coalition Government, recently identified as the largest public contributor to rural Research and Development funding in Australia, is committed to ensuring our investments provide practical benefits for our farmers and agriculture industries,” Minister Joyce said.

“The University of Adelaide’s new infrastructure will include two new controlled environment growth rooms (CERs) and LED lighting in their glasshouses and the two CERs.

“The controlled environments will facilitate simultaneous drought and heat experiments designed to improve the combined drought and heat tolerance of grain crops and improve crop yields, with an industry-wide impact.”

Member for Boothby, Nicolle Flint, said the funding was a significant boost for Australia’s grains research capacity.

“The University of Adelaide’s Waite campus continues to play an important part in the ongoing research that supports improvements for the Australian grains industry,” Ms Flint said.

“We are proud of what the university has already achieved and I am excited by the prospect of what this funding will deliver for Australia’s grains industry going forward.”

The project is jointly funded by the Coalition Government and growers, through levies and matching contributions.

Low carb, high fat diet may help memory, longevity – research

Researchers in the US have shown that a ketogenic diet, which is low in carbohydrates and protein but high in fats, improves healthspan and memory in aging mice.

Eating the diet ramps up the production of the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate acid (BHB). While small studies in humans with cognitive impairment have suggested that BHB could improve memory, senior scientist and Buck President and CEO, Eric Verdin MD, says this is the first study in aging mammals which details the positive effects of BHB on memory and lifespan.

“This opens up a new field in aging research,” said Verdin. “We think the health benefits of BHB may go beyond memory and could affect tissues and organ systems.” Verdin added that the results also support efforts in his lab to translate the findings to the clinic. “We’re looking for drug targets. The ultimate goal is to find a way for humans to benefit from BHBs without having to go on a restrictive diet.”

The ketogenic diet-fed mice had a lower risk of dying as they aged from one to two years old, although their maximum lifespan was unchanged. Another group of mice underwent memory testing at both middle age (one year old) and old age (two years old).

Mice that had been eating a ketogenic diet performed at least as well on memory tests at old age as they did at middle age, while mice eating the normal diet showed an expected age-associated decline.

Mice who ate the ketogenic diet also explored more, and their improved memory was confirmed with another test a few months later. Newman noted that the mice were off the ketogenic diet and did not have any BHB in their blood during the testing period.

Mice which are allowed to remain on the ketogenic diet will eventually become obese.

“We were careful to have all of the mice eating a normal diet during the actual memory testing which suggests the effects of the ketogenic diet were lasting. Something changed in the brains of these mice to make them more resilient to the effects of age,” he said. “Determining what this is, is the next step in the work.”

Verdin said the study will open the door to new therapies for the cognitive problems of aging. “As we gain a deeper understanding of what BHB does in our body and our brain, we can intelligently design therapies to capture individual benefits while minimizing harms.” The Verdin lab is currently exploring beneficial effects of a similar ketogenic diet in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Results of the study from Eric Verdin’s lab at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, CA are published in the September 5th issue of Cell Metabolism.


New research ideas sought to benefit Australian sugarcane industry

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) is seeking new and innovative research ideas that will help improve the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of Australian sugarcane growers and millers.

SRA CEO Mr Neil Fisher said that SRA was seeking innovative research concepts that align with SRA’s newly developed five-year Strategic Plan.

“If you have an innovating research concept with the potential to deliver identified Outcomes to a practical problem that has been identified by the industry, SRA would like to hear from you,” Mr Fisher said.

SRA is inviting applications for potential new research projects that would begin from July 1, 2018.

“Our Strategic Plan has been created in consultation with our investors and is focused on delivering profitability, productivity, and sustainability outcomes for the Australian sugarcane industry.

“Our Strategic Plan is underpinned by the four overarching goals of driving profitability, improving sustainability, enhancing capability, and strengthening organisational excellence.

“We encourage researchers to submit their best and brightest ideas. We also strongly encourage ideas that have been developed in consultation with industry.”

SRA will preferentially invest in prioritised research investment opportunities identified across each KFA (Key Focus Area).

More information on the 2018 Project Call and the Strategic Plan is available from SRA.

Monash Uni, Chobani launch $3 million food incubator facility

Monash University has launched a $3 million incubation facility as part of its Food Innovation Centre.

Maker of Greek yoghurt, Chobani, is the first client to use the state-of-the-art facility.

The Incubator comprises three, high tech, serviced industrial kitchens, a food grade scale-up lab and a collaborative lounge.

Gabrielle Williams MP and Chobani Founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, attended the official opening today in the Food Innovation Centre at Monash’s Clayton campus.

The new Incubator is part of Monash’s Food Innovation Centre whose aim is to accelerate innovation in Australia’s food industry, by providing companies – from start-ups to large corporates – with unrivalled technological innovation, product development services and research capabilities, to help them export more rapidly into target markets including Asia.

Chobani will partner with the Food Innovation Centre, utilising the new facility to run a bespoke incubator program for early stage companies in a bid to challenge more established businesses. The program will span four months and each participating start-up will receive a $10,000 grant.

Monash Deputy Vice-Chancellor Enterprise, Ken Sloan, said the new Incubator was another example of Monash combining research excellence with industry need:

“When we bring the needs of industry and society together with the research expertise and state-of- the-art infrastructure of the University, amazing things can happen,” Mr Sloan said.

“The new Incubator is a fantastic example of how a collaboration involving Monash, the Victorian Government and the food and agriculture industries can bring real time innovation in such vital sectors, both for Australia and internationally.”

Monash Director of Food and Agriculture, Professor Nicolas Georges (pictured), said the Incubator was increasingly attractive to food producers and manufacturers seeking competitive market advantages through innovation.

“The Food and Agriculture Innovation Initiative with Monash’s new Incubator positions the University as a leading ecosystem of innovation for the future of food and agriculture,” Professor Georges said.

“It is a huge benefit for the food sector and the state of Victoria as it becomes a hub for the food industry entrepreneurs to connect and develop the foods of the future.”

Gabrielle Williams MP said the establishment of the Monash Food Incubator is a major milestone of the Victorian Government-funded Food Innovation Centre.

“Victoria is the food and fibre hub of our nation and the State Government congratulates Monash University on its further investment in the Monash Food Incubator where local businesses can further develop new capabilities and the next generation of products,” Gabrielle Williams said.

Chobani Founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, said: “There’s never been a better time to be a food entrepreneur—in Australia or around the world. Natural food start-ups with the right mindset can change categories, challenge the big guys and make a big difference in their communities. I love what’s happening with food start-ups here in Australia and want to share we’ve learned when it comes to scaling and fighting convention, like we’ve done with our other incubator programs. This is a no-strings-attached, grant-based program to support entrepreneurs so we can further fuel the food revolution.”

Professor Georges said that while there are other food incubators around the world, the end-to-end support systems available through Monash’s cross-disciplinary scale of research expertise and research infrastructure was unique.

“We know nine out of ten new food products in the fast-moving consumer goods segment fail,” Professor Georges said.

“By using Monash facilities and expertise, businesses can triple or quadruple their likely success rate and, at the very least, avoid expensive mistakes by identifying problems earlier rather than later,” Professor Georges said.

The $3 million Incubator was co-designed by Monash stakeholders and external partners including Mariljohn and DesignInc. It anchors the specialised start-up support expertise of partners Rocket Seeder, My Other Kitchen, NEIS Holmesglen, Badalya and Monash’s Food Innovation Centre.

Breakthrough in treatment for peanut allergy

Researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have found evidence that a cure may be possible for peanut allergy.

A treatment the researchers are trialing has shown long-lasting effects, more than four years after the original study; and provided hopes for sufferers of the allergy.

At the end of the original trial in 2013, 82 per cent of children who received the probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy (PPOIT) were deemed tolerant to peanuts and went home eating peanut. Four years later, 80 per cent of children who gained initial tolerance are still eating peanut as part of their normal diet and have passed a further challenge test confirming long-term tolerance to peanut (70 per cent)

Publication of four year follow up data from a study of a novel oral immunotherapy to treat peanut allergy – The Lancet, Child and Adolescent Health

Research led by Professor Mimi Tang, who pioneered the probiotic and peanut immunotherapy (PPOIT) treatment, followed up children four years after they completed the initial trial. Children in the original PPOIT randomised trial were given either a combination of the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts, or a placebo, once daily for 18 months, then tested to see if they had developed tolerance to peanut.

Prof Tang said the new study showed that the majority of PPOIT-treated children who tolerated peanut at the end of the original trial were still eating peanut without reactions four years later.

“The probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy treatment, or PPOIT, was associated with long-lasting ability to tolerate peanut four years after stopping the treatment,” Prof Tang said.

“Of the PPOIT-treated participants who achieved short term tolerance at the end of the original trial, 80 per cent were still eating peanut and 70 per cent had long-lasting challenge-proven tolerance four years after stopping treatment.”