Tasty, healthier food made from roots, tubers and bananas: getting to the bottom of consumer preferences

Tasty, healthier food made from roots, tubers and bananas: getting to the bottom of consumer preferences

Across tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America, many foods are traditionally processed from roots, tubers and bananas. These crops can continue to play a vital role in food security if they can gain more access to urban markets, including restaurants and food processing industries emerging across these regions. Root, tuber and banana flours and purees can be substituted for some of the imported wheat flour, to reduce the cost and to improve the flavor and the nutritional value of novel processed products. New methods are now being used to discern sensory and physicochemical properties of new, manufactured foods, and to understand what consumers really want.

OFSP puree technology demonstration workshop. N. Ronoh (CIP-SSA)

Roots, tubers and bananas are vital crops for food security, especially for the poor, in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. For centuries, roots, tubers and bananas have been processed into food products. Many people have also begun to eat manufactured foods made from white flour. Millions of people can enjoy better nutrition if food processors can substitute roots, tubers and bananas for some of the imported wheat flour that is now used in baked products. Food scientists are developing new recipes and testing them with consumers to design healthier foods that consumers want to eat.

In several studies, food scientists evaluated prepared food such as fritters (fried flour dough) in Zambia, chin chin (a crisp pastry) in Nigeria, as well as sponge-cakes and cookies. New ingredients tested included plantain flour, tigernut, watermelon rind, groundnut, black pepper and cinnamon. In all cases, various mixes of different flours made from cassava, plantain, groundnut and other crops were used to prepare these foods.

Panels of consumers tasted different versions of each food and ranked them (for example, on a scale of 1 to 5) on various sensory characteristics such as appearance, aroma, texture in the mouth, taste, crispiness and overall acceptability. Statistics were used to determine which characteristics (for example, taste and aroma) contributed the most to the overall acceptability of the new products. These were compared with physical and nutritional properties, such as percentage of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, ash, fat, and sugar. For example, foods that absorb less cooking oil are judged to be crunchier and tastier. In each case, consumers accepted the pastries made from new ingredients. Researchers were able to refine these evaluations, to identify which blends of healthy ingredients consumers preferred the most.

In Benin, RTB researchers bringing together a team of food technologists from CIRAD, CIAT and Université d’Abomey Calavi studied gari (a traditional flour-like foodstuff made from cassava) to determine how consumers would react to gari enriched with oil. This was the first sensory profiling study of gari conducted in Benin and the first in Africa to go beyond general descriptors like appearance and taste. Nine traditional, and three enriched garis were profiled using 15 descriptors. All 12 garis were evaluated dry and mixed with water.

New baked products using OSFP puree. S. Quinn (CIP)

The nine traditional garis, produced in different regions, varied widely in terms of the amount of roasting, drying and sifting during processing.  Consequently, there was wide variability in particle size, particle heterogeneity, water absorption and sour taste, as well as in physiochemical characteristics, such as degree of starch gelatinization, lactic acid and vitamin A. The three enriched types of gari were blended with soybean oil, palm oil, or both.

Eighteen panelists were carefully trained to use 15 different descriptors based on color, odor, texture and taste. The samples were tested three times each, over nine sessions, using a sophisticated scoring device: panel members put a mark for each descriptor on a 100 mm linear scale. The panelists perceived the three enriched kinds of gari as different from the traditional ones mainly in their color and odor, while their swelling capacity, texture while chewing and light sour taste were similar. This helps pave the way for making enriched gari that consumers will want to buy.

Work on developing tasty products from orange-fleshed sweetpotato which meet consumer and manufacturers’ preferences is well advanced. In East Africa, the sweetpotato has already been adapted for use in bakeries. In Kenya, major retailers have adopted OFSP puree as a wheat flour substitute in baked and fried products. However, the informal sector, such as small bakeries and street vendors, have no access to cold storage, so to include them CIP developed a shelf-stable puree with preservatives wich lasts for 3 months.

Taken together, these experiences with different crops show that the first step is to create healthy recipes for roots, tubers and banana with attributes that consumers really want. Then, these recipes can be adapted for use by the value chains, including food manufacturers.

Nissa Madura works in her sweetpotato field in Concepcion, Philippines. (CIP)