Persistence pays off for LSU College of Agriculture student developing gluten-free muffin

Tobie Blanchard  |  3/16/2016 8:45:48 PM

Amber Jack

Amber Jack, a food sciences graduate student in the LSU College of Agriculture, has developed a gluten-free, sugar-free banana muffin that closely mimics the taste and texture of a regular muffin. Photo by Tobie Blanchard

(03/16/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – Amber Jack has created a gluten-free, low-sugar baked good that consumer taste-testers say they want to purchase and eat.

Jack is a food sciences graduate student in the LSU College of Agriculture. She took on this challenge as part of her master’s project, deciding that a fruit muffin would be her best bet.

“It is easy to incorporate different fruits in muffins to hide the unpleasant flavor or aroma that gluten-free flour would give the muffin,” she said.

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley and rye. Gluten-free is a big trend in the food industry. In 2015, consumers spent more than $5 billion on gluten-free products.

Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, Jack’s advisor and an LSU AgCenter food scientist, said it is gluten that gives breads, cakes and cookies their rise and texture, so muffins without it can fall flat.

“Gluten-free products are not so simple to make because without the wheat protein, you don’t get the texture that you want,” Prinyawiwatkul said.

Jack said she went through about 20 different formulations before she found one that produced a gluten-free muffin that is surprisingly similar to its gluten counterpart. She used a combination of flours and other ingredients to achieve the taste and texture she desired.

She took the recipe further by varying the amounts of sugar in three batches. One included real sugar, another had a sugar substitute, and a third was made with half sugar and half sugar substitute.

She then had potential consumers taste test the three different muffins.

“I got 128 panelists to come try my product. They had a blind taste so they weren’t sure which muffin was which,” Jack said.

She said she was overwhelmed by the results, which showed that people liked the muffins, with most preferring the one with half sugar and half sugar substitute.

“This is good for consumers who want gluten-free and low-sugar options,” she said.

Jack was able to work on her product in the LSU School of Nutrition and Food Sciences’ new Sensory Analysis Center, which offers a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. Jack also worked as student worker with the AgCenter Food Incubator. She said that job prepared her for this project, and the incubator can offer her resources to help sell her product.

“I was amazed when I tasted the gluten-free, sugar-free banana muffin. I was so proud of Amber for producing that,” said Gaye Sandoz, coordinator of the Food Incubator. “There may be a company that wants the recipe for this product, so we can actually work with Amber to sell that.”

Jack said she is considering selling the recipe or selling the actual muffins at local markets.

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