For her doctoral thesis, Zandonadi used unripe, green bananas to develop an alternative for individuals, such as those with the autoimmune condition celiac disease, who are allergic to the gluten normally found in pasta. The results were recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.04.002).
Typically pasta is made with wheat flour (which contains gluten) and whole eggs. Zandonadi’s team, however, cooked up a pasta with green banana flour (which does not contain gluten), egg whites, water, and guar and xantham gum. According to Zandonadi’s teammate Raquel Botelho, green banana flour serves as a great replacement for wheat flour because the fruit’s resistant starch “forms a net similar to gluten” that traps water inside the pasta, ensuring a moist and elastic consistency.
Unripe fruit might not sound like the most appetizing of ingredients, but the experimental pasta actually proved quite tasty. The team cooked a meal of green banana pasta for a focus group of 25 people with celiac disease as well as a meal of green banana pasta and whole-wheat pasta for another group of 50 with no gluten allergies. The team then asked the tasters to rate their experience. The diners raved about the experimental pasta, ranking it ahead of whole-wheat pasta in terms of aroma, flavor, texture, and all-around quality. Not bad for pasta that contains 98% less fat than its whole-wheat counterpart. Another benefit, says Botelho: Green banana pasta serves as a source of inulin, a polysaccharide that stimulates the development of “good,” immunity-boosting intestinal bacteria.
Through their new recipe, the research team has turned a commonly overlooked fruit into a key ingredient for feeding an underserved section of the world’s population. “Green bananas are considered a subproduct of low commercial value with little industrial use,” the team’s abstract notes. Yet, “the possibility of developing gluten-free products with green banana flour can expand the product supply for people with celiac disease and contribute to a more diverse diet.”
Green banana flour has already contributed to a more diverse diet for the Brazilian research team. Botelho tells Newscripts that her lab bakes cakes, cookies, and pies using the alternative pasta ingredient. Still, she contends, “the most difficult recipes to be developed without gluten are pasta and bread. That is why we wrote an article about pasta.”
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