Proteins could replace fats in diet cheeses and cakes

London: Scientists have produced modified proteins that can act as 'fat substitutes' in cheeses and cakes without affecting the taste and texture of the foods.

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The new research could lead to low-fat cheeses and cakes that are just as tempting as full-fat equivalents. Researchers from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh produced modified proteins that easily break down into micro-particles and therefore closely mimic the behaviour of fats during food manufacture.

The proteins will enable food manufacturers to remove much of the fat used in their products without compromising on product quality. Protein-for-fat substitution is not a completely new idea, but to date it has been restricted to products such as yogurts. In cheeses and cakes it has proved less successful in ensuring the authentic taste and texture vital to consumer satisfaction, mainly because proteins could not mimic the behaviour of fats closely enough. By studying the proteins' chemical structure, the team has developed a detailed understanding of how they behave when they are heated or undergo other food manufacturing processes.

This has provided the basis for modifying proteins so that they can be used as effective fat substitutes. The proteins could encourage development of a wider choice of low-fat foods, helping consumers to eat more healthily and reducing obesity. The team has achieved particularly promising results in using proteins to replace eggs, an ingredient commonly used as a gelling agent in bakery items. "We've paved the way for the development of modified proteins that, by closely mimicking fat, can be used to produce a wider range of appealing low-fat foods," said Dr Steve Euston, Senior Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt, who led the project.

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