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U of S researchers uncover method to boost nutrient of major Sask. crop


Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have found a way to make red lentils more nutritious, and greener to process.

With over two million tonnes of lentils produced in an average year in Canada, Saskatchewan produces the vast majority.

That’s why chemical and biological engineer Venkatesh Meda and his team have been working with microwaves and infrared heat to make red lentils more nutrient-dense, using fewer greenhouse gases to process.

“We utilized a combined microwave vacuum and microwave infrared technology for roasting, and heating application to basically improve the structural and functional properties of lentils,” Meda told CTV News.

Using this innovative process, Meda says his team found the “zapped” lentils made 96 per cent of the starch digestible, and more than 85 per cent of the protein. Compare that with less than 69 per cent starch and under 80 per cent protein digestibility in raw lentils.

Meda says the microwave heats the lentil from the inside out, while the infrared simultaneously dries the outside of the lentil.

“We demonstrated that the nutritional properties improved, and opportunities for product development diversified in terms of its dietary needs,” said Meda.

With the world’s population hitting eight billion recently, and expectations of hitting 10 billion by 2050, dietitians say having options for more sustainable protein in our diet is a good thing.

“Definitely, people are looking for non-animal protein sources. People are looking to add plants to their diet,” said registered dietitian and CEO of Food to Fit Nutrition, Brooke Bulloch.

“Not everyone is interested in taking away meat and animal products, but it’s very exciting to have more diverse types of proteins available at different costs.”

Meda says this form of processing lentils has three major benefits.

“This is one masterpiece in the recent years that we have worked on, utilizing the lentils that are grown in Saskatchewan for its potential economic returns, for its potential nutritional benefits, for its added opportunity for environmental protection in terms of soil nitrogen,” he said.

“So we’re looking at ecosystem health improvement by encouraging farmers to produce more, and eventually consume more, which is happening in the rest of the world right now.”

Meda and his team say there are a wide range of possible applications for this new “zapped” lentil powder.

“There is absolutely a role for legume crops to be blended into a protein powder, snack bars for those who are hiking in the mountains, athletes with a sports diet, and kinesiology practitioners,” said Meda.

“As well as export potential for some of those 'made-in-Saskatchewan' products which we have to promote tourism as well as attract more investors to this province.”

Lentils are known to be a good food source to combat type 2 diabetes among other chronic health conditions, says Bulloch.

“Lentils are a great source of fibre, specifically prebiotic fibres that are great for the gut microbiome,” she said.

“Lentils are a good source of protein and other nutrients like potassium and folate. These are all nutrients that a lot of Canadians might not get in their diet. So adding these types of things to other foods creates a more functional aspect to that food.”

After thousands of hours of tweaking the process and equipment to suit their project, Meda and his team have more work ahead.

The next step is to scale up the process, improve the flavour, and find out if this unique roasting process can be applied to other legumes and oilseeds with similar benefits. Top Stories

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