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Novel combined sub/supercritical fluid process development for oligosaccharides production from crop fractions for the functional food industry

University of Alberta professor aims to obtain oligosaccharides from pea fibre concentrate using an innovative, rapid, environment-friendly method.

Pulse fractions are increasingly being used to make food products healthier. One aspect of this can be seen in the grocery store. Another relates to the area of nutraceuticals, where a food or food ingredient provides documented health benefits for prevention or management of disease.

For patients with gastrointestinal disorders or colon cancer, oligosaccharides obtained from crop fractions have been known to provide a therapeutic benefit. Current oligosaccharide production relies on processes that are effective, but often slow or environmentally problematic.

“Common processes use enzymes to obtain oligosaccharides, but this process is costly and time-consuming,” said Marleny Saldaña, Associate Professor in Food/Bio-Engineering Processing at the University of Alberta. “The other method uses various chemicals, which are toxic.”

That got Saldaña wondering how could oligosaccharide extraction be made quicker, cheaper and greener? In 2016, with funding support from Alberta Pulse Growers and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Saldaña began a four-year project to examine this question.

Saldaña starts with a pea fibre concentrate left over when manufacturers process peas to obtain protein. With Canada being the leading producer of dry field peas, and various companies now producing a growing quantity of pea fibre, Saldaña saw an opportunity to convert this polysaccharide-rich by-product into oligosaccharides.

Process builds critical knowledge to help industry grow

Over the first 18 months of the project, Saldaña has achieved significant progress in studying enrichment of the polysaccharide fraction for further oligosaccharide production extraction.

“Our approach was to use a green technology where we could ultimately get a dry form or liquid form of the oligosaccharides,” she said. “Processing this co-product here, Alberta will get a much higher value for the final product.”

For Saldaña and her team, which includes two graduate students, the next year will see deeper investigation into how to achieve higher levels of purity in the oligosaccharides. As she sees it, the role played by her students not only advances the project at hand, but also builds critical bench strength that Alberta’s industry will need in the coming years.

Between now and early 2020, Saldaña and her team will continue to refine the processing method to obtain a data set that can be shared with industry to move this faster, cheaper, greener oligosaccharide technology closer to commercialization. It could also mean a high-value market for pea growers in the future.

Saldaña is excited that the early development steps taken by her team in this value-added process are helping to build productive links between academic research, industry need and the health of society.

“By doing research here in Alberta, we can grow the economy, we can grow innovation and involve the industry to commercialize it,” she said. “This funding is so critical, because without it, we cannot build those links.”