PULLMAN, Wash. — Girish Ganjyal stands by as his team of graduate students tests materials in hopes of building a better puffed cereal.
As Ganjyal watches, Ryan Kowalski compares corn, wheat and tapioca starches, pushing samples through an extruder, which heats them under pressure so they come out puffed in a long strand. Students Bon-Jae Gu slices the strand to make samples and Sravya Kallu bags them for testing.
Ganjyal’s work in the value-added processing laboratory at Washington State University seeks to increase the nutritional value of the puffs, but still maintain their taste and texture.
The project is one of many the laboratory undertakes to find new markets for crops Washington farmers grow and to help processors perfect their products.
Other research projects include:
• Increasing soft white wheat uses in tortillas and cereals.
• New uses for pea and lentil starches and proteins.
• New uses for quinoa, a popular gluten-free crop.
• Reducing splits and cracks in cherries during packing.
• A new drying process for apple packing.
• Making candies from leftover cherry materials.
The lab indirectly helps farmers by creating more markets for their crops, Ganjyal said. For example, sprouted wheat isn’t good for bread. The dough, instead of being elastic, becomes viscous. But it could be used for tortillas or in powder used to make energy drinks, Ganjyal said.
Another project looks at the waste from fruit juice processing. The lab is studying different pomaces, which can improve the juice by adding fiber and improving the taste.
The laboratory also provides technical assistance to processors.
Colleen Lamb-Gunnerson, owner of Dungeness River Lamb Farm and Lamb Farm Kitchen in Sequim, Wash., said Ganjyal’s laboratory evaluated 16 fruit preserve products for her company.
The lab has helped significantly, Lamb-Gunnerson said, as the products can be sold as “shelf stable” in a variety of markets, including the Internet.
“We have confidence, from Dr. Ganjyal, that our products will remain safe food products,” she said.
Susana Rios, production assistant at Chukar Cherry Co. in Prosser, Wash., said Ganjyal has helped identify and correct the causes of failed batches of its foods, and improving flavor profiles and texture.
“Girish’s lab has helped us not only know what to do, but why we need to do so,” Rios said.
The researchers also hope to modify pea proteins naturally to increase their solubility for use in energy drinks. The proteins could also be used in gluten-free noodles or cakes.
“That’s adding value to the existing crops,” Ganjyal said. “That gives them a whole different market.”
“Girish’s work is of significant value to the agricultural processing industry,” said Robert McDaniel, director of community and economic development for WSU Extension. “He is highly sought after as a problem-solver, applied researcher and trainer.”
As consumer demands change, the industry must combine nutritional value with food ingredient functions, such as using healthful pea starch as a thickening agent for soups, Ganjyal said.
The lab has an annual budget of $300,000 to $500,000, Ganjyal said. Funding comes from commodity organizations, the National Science Foundation, USDA, the Economic Development Authority and WSU. Individual companies contribute as well.
In the long term, Ganjyal hopes to explore byproducts that are currently without existing uses. Some are ever-present, but others such as sprouted wheat only happen once in a while.
“But if you find a use for it, don’t you all of a sudden have a market?” Ganjyal said. “One farmer stood up (during a meeting) and said, ‘You know what, if you find a use for it, I’m going to go irrigate my wheat.’”
Occupation: Assistant professor and extension food processing specialist, Washington State University
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