Leivon Leipomo, a Finnish bakery business in Tampere, has launched a pasta made completely of oats in August 2021. The pasta has record high protein content levels with nearly one fifth of the product being protein. The accomplishment is unique in Finland as is the collaboration that led to it: the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) brought their experience in oat research and pilot scale experiments to Leivon Leipomo.
The growing reputation of oats as a healthy and versatile food ingredient has encouraged the food industry to develop new oat products and to increase the proportion of oats in already familiar products’ contents. However, the oat pastas produced in Finland usually contain only forty per cent oats. The reason for the low oat content is obvious.
“Oat is in many ways a challenging ingredient for a baker. The biggest challenge is its natural lack of gluten. Oat breads are typically made soft and are held together by adding wheat gluten to them,” Anssi Räntilä, the production manager of Leivon Leipomo, explains.
When Räntilä got the idea of an oat pasta made completely of oat, he declined the idea of adding gluten to the product so that the pathway to an entirely gluten-free product was available. Räntilä thought that it was important that the processing of an oat pasta would suit the ordinary pasta production line. Therefore, they had to figure out what to do to the oats before they could be put into the pasta line.
“After 671 test runs, Kaurakas pasta left to stores in August 2021. It also reached the finals of the Finnish success recipe contest,” Räntilä states.
Nothing but oat and loads of protein
The test runs began in the fall 2020 in Luke’s FoodPilot testing facility in Jokioinen. Before that, Räntilä had become acquainted with veterans of oat research in both Luke and Polar Glucan (developer of oat products and their production methods). Luke and Polar Glucan had worked for years with a group of about thirty farmers.
Together the group of researchers and farmers have developed, for example, a colloidal oatmeal for the international cosmetics industry. In the colloid oatmeal it is essential that there is a high proportion of beta glucan and protein. Räntilä was also interested in the high level of protein, and so some of the farmers of the group joined the oat pasta project too.
“Now the Kaurakas pasta has a protein percentage of 18 per cent, which is more than that of a wiener. We have not used peas or broad beans to accomplish this. We have only used oat and some other plant fibers. We have a strict policy regarding additives which further complicated the development,” Räntilä tells.
Räntilä knows that he has accomplished something that many bakers only dream about. Therefore, he is unwilling to reveal all of the details of the production process.
The farming technique developed by Luke is essential as well as a professional and functioning cooperation in the pilot testing facility. The involvement of the whole supply chain starting from the fields was also of particular importance in this development.” – Anssi Räntilä, Leivon leipomo
The entire production chain from fields to bakery
Farmer Markku Välimäki has been working closely together with researchers for over a decade already.
“This is the first time we can see our product in the consumer market, and now we can get feedback and proposals regarding the development of the product from the consumers. It has been rewarding to work in a group in which everybody presents their own views,” Välimäki tells. Välimäki dries the oats produced by the farmers in his facility in Sastamala and ensures oat quality. The oats are ground in Kokemäki and made into pasta in Eura. Everything is done within a seventy-kilometer radius.
“The oats produced by the farmer group are unique and they give a clear competitive advantage to Finnish oat products. It is important to handle and store the high-quality raw material separately from other oats,” Polar Glucan’s managing director Ilkka Lehtomäki states.
Luke’s senior scientist Veli Hietaniemi believes that uncompromising development work with oats and oat products offers Finnish businesses good opportunities in the global market.
“By developing oat products, we can raise the degree of processing and that way promote the success of the entire production chain,” Hietaniemi mentions.
Oat husks next into processing
The high fibre Kaurakas pasta is on the market, but according to Räntilä, the research collaboration continues.
“I dream of oat pasta which behaves exactly like wheat pasta does.”
Researchers and product developers are interested in utilizing the husks of oats from food industry as raw material in other products. The husks make up 35-40 per cent of the harvested crops and they are typically burnt for energy.
Luke has earlier developed a packaging paper which utilizes the husks. In the manufacturing some of the chemical pulp is replaced with oat hulls. Räntilä has patented a smoking pellet which can be made of oat hulls and wasted bread. Polar Glucan and Luke are developing together a composite material made of oat husks and parts of other annual plants. The composite material is supposed to be used in the same way as some plastics, for example in phone casings or packaging.
“We will soon have a completely new type of pilot extruder in Luke’s pilot facility as we need to stay on the top of product development and we always have to be prepared for the next great idea,” Hietaniemi from Luke states.