A new research project is looking into a process to extract antioxidant dietary fibres from corn starch production, in a move that could potentially turn tonnes of nearly-worthless bran into a circular resource.
Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology have reported a way to unlock soluble, ferulic acid-rich dietary fibres from corn bran, as well as having developed a hydrogel that delivers it to the intestines where it can prevent cell oxidation and improve gut health.
Due to its insolubility, corn bran is a low-value sidestream from corn starch production, which is otherwise discarded or sold off for animal feed. Instead of letting it go to waste, the researchers used a method called subcritical water extraction to isolate the soluble fibre part of the bran that contains ferulic acid.
Francisco Vilaplana, Associate Professor in the Division of Glycoscience at KTH Royal Institute of Technology says the next step is to create a hyrodgel by crosslinking the soluble ferulic acid-rich dietary fibre part by using natural enzymes such as laccase and peroxidase.
The hydrogel can be digested as a prebiotic for gut health or used as a treatment for wounds, as it counteracts oxidative stress and contributes to healing.
The method was published in the scientific journal, Green Chemistry. The global market for corn starch is estimated at over 120 million metric tonnes, and expected to increase to 160 million metric tonnes by 2026. In processing of corn starch, as much as 15% of the kernel is discarded as fibre or corn bran.
“That’s a huge industrial sidestream,” said Francisco Vilaplana. He says the new technique addresses concern over food waste in terms of sustainability and greehouse gas emissions.
“We showed that we can upgrade a food side stream into a valuable material for both food and biomedical applications that could mitigate inflammatory processes,” he added.
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