Commercialised Composite Flour Porridge (Left and Right); Reduced Wheat and Gluten-Free Cookies (Middle): Makarere University

A team of researchers at the Makerere University in Uganda, a partner of PROTEIN2FOOD, have developed a host of protein-rich food products suitable for the Ugandan market. Through collaboration with Nutreal Ltd., a company specialising in nutrient-enhanced foods in Uganda, the team developed and produced instant and fast-cooking composite flours for porridge. Alongside this, they have developed reduced wheat and gluten-free cookies and snack/cereal bars. All the products have been enriched with amaranth and beans to enhance the amount of protein they contain. Nutreal Ltd. source the amaranth, beans and other raw materials from local farmers who they support in producing the required quality and quantity of the grains. This means that the PROTEIN2FOOD project is contributing to the sustainability of local value chains.

Composite Flours

So, what are composite flours? They are mixtures of wheat and other flours in different proportions, to create various food products (i.e. breads, pastas, porridges and snack foods). These flours are often used for economic and nutritional reasons, especially to increase the protein content or to increase essential nutrients in the food products (1).

Instant Porridge

The porridge products are made of composite flours, meaning they are a mix of millet, maize, soybeans and amaranth and proved to be very popular with mothers and children, especially due to the nutrient composition, taste and convenience. 

When carrying out their research, the team found that porridge prepared from extruded flour was more acceptable than the flour prepared from unextruded flour, with average acceptability scores of 7.87 and 6.70 respectively. Extrusion involves forcing ingredients through an opening on a plate that changes in size and shape depending on required product. However, processing methods used to develop these products, like extrusion, can have consequential effects on the nutrients, the sensory quality of the product, the functional properties of the product and may even change the bio-active compounds within these flours. The researchers found that extrusion significantly increased the ability to digest protein, the ability to obtain zinc and iron from the flours, as well as the total phenolics, flavonoids and antioxidant levels. Positive differences in various functional properties of the products were also found. This included, the flours’ ability to absorb water and oil, as well as their ability to dissolve within and bulk the products.

Reduced Wheat Cookies and Gluten-Free Cookies

Uganda has been experiencing a growing population of consumers who prefer specialised diets, such as high nutrient-enhanced and gluten-free. However, there are no protein sources within the category of gluten-free bakery products on the market. As such, Makerere University researchers have developed gluten-free cookies. Additionally, Uganda imports most of the wheat used in bakery and confectionary products, so by developing a reduced wheat cookie prototype, the researchers can both enhance the nutritional composition of the cookies and move away from using imported wheat in bakery products. Both prototypes have high sensory acceptability, scoring 7 out of 9 on the hedonic scale. This means that participants who tried these cookies liked them. Currently, the research team are conducting nutritional, textural and shelf-life testing to be prepared for the final consumer testing.

New Safety Standards in Uganda

Additionally, the PROTEIN2FOOD research team from Makerere University helped change food safety standards in Uganda. Until 2018, Uganda had no standard for instant cereal flours. The researchers provided data that helped inform the development and approval of a standard for certification for the development of these flours as well as other similar products in Uganda.

From the Lab to Commercialisation

The research team in Uganda are one of two PROTEIN2FOOD partners who have so far been able to commercialise the products developed by the project. In collaboration with Nutreal Ltd. both the instant and fast-cooking flours are now available in 30 supermarkets in Kampala city, Uganda. The awareness of these products has been raised by Nutreal Ltd. and the researchers on PROTEIN2FOOD, resulting in increasing sales and consumption of these products.

Meet the Researchers from Makarere University

Dorothy Nakimbugwe (PhD) – Associate Professor of Food Technology & Nutrition at Makerere University and Co-PI for Uganda (Left)

Maggie Batenga – Bakery Production Manager for Nutreal Ltd. (a private sector stakeholder) (Middle)

Dr. Catherine Ndagire – post-doctoral researcher (Right)

The PROTEIN2FOOD research team and Nutreal Ltd. greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in the project and benefit from the international collaboration. The project is a good case study of the value that North-South collaborations can have.

Dorothy Nakimbugwe

(1) Chandra, S., Singh, S., Kumari, D. (2015). Evaluation of functional properties of composite flours and sensorial attributes of composite flour biscuits. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(6):3681-3688.