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Curtin research to unlock health potential of ancient grain

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Sorghum grain may be a new weapon in the fight against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity according to a Curtin University of Technology researcher.

Leading food chemist, Dr Stuart Johnson, from the Food Science and Technology Program at Curtin’s School of Public Health, is researching the properties of carbohydrates, proteins and antioxidants in coloured sorghum varieties to help develop new foods that can deliver long-term health benefits.

“My research into sorghum is unique as most cultivated sorghum is refined white varieties even though many other varieties exist,” Dr Johnson said.

“Although this crop is not yet widely cultivated in WA like it is in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, the threat of climate change indicates sorghum has great future potential here as it is a drought and heat tolerant crop that may also offer unique health benefits.

“There are many coloured varieties of sorghum, and I am investigating which varieties will offer the maximum health properties for consumers while still being palatable.”

Dr Johnson’s research, in collaboration with food industry partners, will use statistical modelling to identify the most promising sorghum varieties, formulation and processing methods.

“I am particularly keen to understand the chemistry of sorghum and discover varieties that can be developed into foods that will have a low glycemic index (GI), high appetite suppression properties, and also a high level of antioxidants,” he said.

“Foods with these properties can be effective in the fight against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity and offer consumers increased health benefits.”

Sorghum is widely cultivated in Queensland and NSW as feed stock for animals and has also potential for use in biofuel production, but until recently its human food potential has been ignored by Australian researchers.

“By understanding which varieties of sorghum are the most beneficial for health, my research can contribute to the diversification of the sorghum crop in Australia into high value human food markets for the benefit of the industry and also consumers,” Dr Johnson said.

Dr Johnson is also a member of the Centre for Grain Food Innovation, an alliance between the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Curtin.

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