Research on oats in food has broadened significantly in recent years. One of the most important goals for the future is utilising the whole grain. “In a perfect world, we could use the entire oat kernel in foodstuffs,” says Emilia Nordlund, a research leader in food development at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

In recent years, an increasing number of products containing oats have reached the shelves, such as oat drinks, oat-based yoghurt, cream substitutes, ice cream and chocolate. “The industry continues to show great interest in oats. We believe in oats here in the Nordics; It’s a crop that can be grown here, we have a lot of knowledge and have developed many new products. The Nordic region is now a hub for oat research and development,” says Emilia Nordlund.

More research on separation and processing techniques is needed to use oats as an ingredient in more foods.

She says that more research on separation and processing techniques is needed to use oats as an ingredient in more foods. Currently, various techniques are used to extract the dietary fibre beta-glucan and protein from oats, but starch, which comprises much of the oat kernel, is not fully utilised. “As a fraction, starch is a bit overlooked. I don’t think finding a use for the starch is a big problem, for example in bakery products, but that is not being done today. Utilising all of the oat kernel is important for increased sustainability and greater profitability. VTT has developed a new technology for fractioning oats into protein- and starch-rich ingredients.This is a completely new and patented innovation where oat flour or grains can be used as a raw material, thanks to dry extrusion in specific conditions. This produces two fractions – one rich in protein and one rich in starch. This technology allows us to produce a fraction with over 70% protein content and a texture that makes it a viable alternative to meat. ”Nordlund concludes by saying how the research team then went on to investigate how well the protein is absorbed in the body, using an in-vitro model. “We thought that extrusion would reduce uptake, but the opposite happened – it led to improved protein availability.”

Text: Karin Janson
Photo: VTT