Growing oat potential: Finnish project highlights advanced technologies to develop novel innovation

Growing oat potential: Finnish project highlights advanced technologies to develop novel innovation

04 Mar 2019 --- A new initiative aimed at promoting oat consumption and boosting the export potential for high-quality oat products made by the Finnish food industry is currently underway. As a nutritional, sustainable ingredient, oats and oat-based products hold significant global potential – and now thanks to the OatHow project, headway could be made to bring oats further to the fore.

Finland is one of the world’s largest oats producers with oats consumption per capita around 7.3 kg. Moreover, the consumption of oats is increasing by approximately 10 percent a year. The health-promoting properties of this ingredient are well-known in the country and oats are applied to a diverse range of uses, particularly as a raw material for innovative food products. 

The OatHow project, funded by Business Finland, a Finnish consortium will “produce new information on oat-based raw materials for the development of novel oat innovation through research and business development.”

Project coordinators VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. (VTT), want to get a better understanding of the impact of oat cultivars and oat crop batches on oat processability and quality which may challenge the increase in oat consumption and export. 

The growing global interest in oat products gives oat-producing countries like Finland, an opportunity to enter the global oats trade and oat products market with significant volumes, according to VTT. 

However, NPD is held back by insufficient understanding of how the quality and composition of oat crop batches affect the oat processability and end product quality. The lack of practical indicators of oat quality and applicability to various food processes is a challenge, notes VTT. 

“Consumers are on the lookout for new and health beneficial products that are produced in a sustainable way, so there really is great export potential for high-quality oat products made by the Finnish food industry,” says Emilia Nordlund, Coordinator of the OatHow project at VTT.

In addition to the oat cultivar, the quality characteristics of oats are affected by the growth conditions during the crop year. The varying quality of oat crop batches causes difficulties for the industry when there is no knowledge on how the production processes should be adjusted in accordance with the ingredient quality. For example, the dough sticks to mixing bowls, unnecessary waste is generated and the end product may not meet consumer expectations.

The food industry can deal with these types of variations in relation to wheat and malt barley because analysis methods that measure the material quality to predict the composition of the crop batches are well-established. 

The launch of the OatHow project comes amid growing oat innovation with a number of key companies within the food ingredients and nutraceutical industries unveiling NPD recently. 

Naturex showcased its selection of cutting-edge plant-based health and wellness solutions during SupplySide West Expo in Las Vegas in November 2018. These included SWEOATBran, a high-quality oat fiber bran ingredient rich in beta-glucan which clinical studies claim can reduce cholesterol and can contribute to the reduction of blood glucose rise after a meal. There was also a focus on the clinically-validated heart health benefits delivered by Aronox aronia extract and SWEOAT oat beta-glucan.

Swedish company Oatly has been innovating in the oats space for several years, using its patented enzyme technology to turn fiber rich oats into nutritional liquid food. It was the first company to commercialize oat milk and its portfolio of oat-based products includes other oat-based beverages, yogurt and creme fraiche alternatives, flavored spreads and ice cream. 

Earlier this year, Califia Farms further diversified its plant-based offerings with the launch of a new oatmilk line made with North American whole grain, gluten-free oats.

This range includes an Oat Barista Blend (launched in February) and an Unsweetened Oatmilk to be unveiled in April 2019.

Analysis methods for oats
The purpose of the OatHow project, based on collaboration between research institutes and universities studying oats and industries using oats in their food products, is to find similarly global relevant analysis methods for oats. 

The idea is to make it easy for the producers to select the oat ingredient that best suits the product. New analysis methods can also be used for ensuring the quality of oat crop batches in the grain trade.

The project, which is running throughout this year and 2020, focuses particularly on finding links between the processability of oats and the properties measured from oat materials. The project studies what kind of parameters (e.g. chemical composition and physical characteristics) need to and can be measured from oat crop batches to make it possible for the processors to make decisions on the processing methods and oats applicability to different food processes. 

The processing quality is examined by testing the effect of distinct oats on quality parameters of various foods from solid to moist product types.

The research is based on large volumes of data measured from grains. Machine learning (an application of artificial intelligence that gives systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programed) can be used to help determine whether the specific oat batch is suited for bakery products or dairy alternatives, for example. 

The project seeks to identify the strengths of Finnish oats in comparison to oats grown elsewhere, as well as bringing new feasible tools for oat users globally. 

OatHow is part of a project entity funded by Business Finland that consists of a public research project and four parallel company projects starting simultaneously (Valio, Fazer, Helsinki Mills and Boreal Plant Breeding Ltd.). In addition to Business Finland and the research partners involved, the funding providers for the OatHow project include nine companies representing the oat chain from field to table (Avena, Kinnusen Mylly, Lantmännen Agro, Myllyn Paras, Planta Nova, Polar Glucan, Raisio, Vaasan, Viking Malt).

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