As she pulls cakes and cookies out of the oven, Cassandra Hillen hopes to find the winning recipe to help gluten-free consumers.
“My research is focused on finding alternative uses for peas, and potentially other pulse crops, as food ingredients,” said Hillen, an NDSU cereal science master’s student from Fargo.
Pulse crops include lentils, edible beans, peas and chickpeas.
Hillen is studying pea flour as a possible substitute for gluten-free flours and soy. She also is exploring it as a way to add nutritional value to wheat products. Because pea flour is rich in vitamins and does not contain the gluten-forming proteins found in wheat, Hillen believes it can be used to improve the quality of gluten-free baked goods.
Hillen’s research comes at a time when gluten-free products are rising in the marketplace and more people are becoming aware of celiac disease, a serious health issue where the small intestine has difficulty digesting gluten. However, baking with pea flour presents some obstacles.
“Anything gluten-free is a challenge, but because pea flour has certain nutritional properties that promote browning and water absorption, products tend to get darker and drier than baked goods with other gluten-free flours,” said Hillen.
Natural pea flour has a grassy or earthy flavor that is considered undesirable for baking. Hillen’s research focuses on removing those flavors. After taste testing baked goods with both treated and untreated pea flour, Hillen noted a significant difference in taste.
Hillen suggests additional studies are needed, recommending taste tests by people restricted to gluten-free diets to compare pea flour products with existing gluten-free products.
“Cassie is an enthusiastic and self-motivated student,” said Clifford Hall, professor of plant sciences and Hillen’s research adviser. “She also has a willingness to learn new lab techniques, which is important if working in a laboratory setting is your goal.”
Hillen is in NDSU’s cereal science accelerated master’s program, which allows students to complete both their Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in five years. She recently accepted a full-time position with Anheuser-Busch InBev working with malt and barley.
The Northern Pulse Growers funded Hillen’s research. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse to encourage production and consumption of pulse crops worldwide.
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