Fresh approach to an ancient food

New technology, traditional food: project leader Vicky Solah uses a Minolta reflectance

By Brendon Cant

In laboratories at Perth"s Curtin University of Technology, Vicky Solah, food science lecturer and food technologist, is researching how to improve the making of a wheat-based food that has been around for thousands of years.

The GRDC-supported research aims to further enhance the health benefits of bulgur, which she describes as "already a great healthy product".

With fellow researcher Dr Deborah Kerr and research associates, Heri Ann Limley and Haelee Fenton, she has refined a new way of processing wheat to create bulgur, a key ingredient in traditional Middle Eastern foods such as pilaf (mixture of bulgur, oil and meat), falafel (bulgur and faba bean flour) and kibbeh (layers of bulgur and meat).

Photo: New technology, traditional food: project leader Vicky Solah uses a Minolta reflectance
spectrometer to measure colour in bulgur. Falafel is a mix of bulgur and faba bean flour.

Bulgur is typically the product of hard wheat that has been cleaned, cooked, dried and pulverised. It is frequently manufactured from moderately high-protein durum and common hard wheat, but also from soft wheat.

Along the way and significantly for growers, the GRDC project, titled "Bulgur - a potential functional food derived from wheat", may also have uncovered a potential new use for slightly sprouted wheat.

Project collaborator and grain quality expert Graham Crosbie, of the WA Department of Agriculture, has shown that the starch functional properties of germinated grain are retained if the alpha-amylase associated with the germination can be inactivated before gelatinisation.

Traditional bulgur manufacture involves boiling or steaming cleaned wheat to about 45 percent moisture, at which time the starch is fully gelatinised. The grain is then dried to 10 percent moisture content and winnowed to remove loose bran particles.

The product is finally crushed and screened to separate the coarse, fine and very fine flour particles.

Unlike the traditional method of manufacturing bulgur, the "secret" new Curtin process prevents nutrients from leaching into the water during processing. Ms Solah says the process developed by the Curtin team makes it possible to eliminate the effect of alpha-amylase in bulgur manufacturing.

Along with Samir Siryani, a Sydney based food processor and expert in Middle Eastern food, she recently travelled to Turkey to source and understand equipment and processes for possibly scaling up the new Curtin manufacturing process.

While there, she also met world bulgur expert Dr Mustafa Bayram - a lecturer at the University of Gaziantep and adviser to bulgur processors in the South Anatolia region, where 70 percent of Turkey"s total bulgur production occurs - to develop collaborative research ideas.

The region is home to the world"s largest bulgur plant, producing 100 tonnes a day. The Curtin team is also working to produce bulgur with a lower Glycaemic Index (GI), which is recommended for all people, particularly diabetics and athletes.

Low GI means slower digestion and slower release of energy, which, in turn keeps glycogen levels more stable.

Lorraine Siryani, from Samir"s Natural Foods in Sydney, displays a tray of kibbeh made from new-process bulgur and minced lamb.Samir and Lorraine Siryani, from Samir"s Natural Foods in Sydney, visited Perth in March to test Curtin bulgur for its end product suitability and binding capacity. The researchers worked the bulgur into kibbeh and pilaf.

"Samir"s expertise in end-product quality was very valuable in assessing how our bulgur emerged in the end product," Ms Solah said.

Photo: Lorraine Siryani, from Samir"s Natural Foods in Sydney, displays a tray of kibbeh made from new-process bulgur and minced lamb.

For graingrowers, the project has several potential positives, including add-on uses for sprouted grain and a new market for lower-protein durum, depending on the importance of protein content on processing characteristics and the texture of the cooked product.

For more information:
Vicky Solah, 08 9266 2771, V.Solah@curtin.edu.au

GRDC Research Code: CUR 00003, program 5