November 16, 2007
Grad Profile by Brette Ehalt
According to Shahram Emami, chickpeas may be the way of the future.
“Statistics show,” says the recent Agricultural and Bioresearch Engineering graduate, “that chickpea grain is becoming an increasingly important crop in Western Canada.”
When broken down into its valuable products – protein and starch – chickpeas are particularly useful. A relatively high protein content (between 12.4 per cent and 30.6 per cent) makes it a very economical protein source for human food and animal feed, and its starch components are effective in binding, dyeing and filling for the pharmaceutical, hygiene, cosmetic, paper, and textile industries.
“But,” continues Emami, “current processes for starch-protein separation from relatively high-fat-content legumes like chickpeas are not efficient as they should be, and that’s what I hope my research will change.”
While the fractionation of protein and starch is typically done by dry processing, Emami employed a wet processing technique, using the hydrocyclone, to improve separation efficiency.
A hydrocyclone uses water pressure to generate a spinning motion that separates solid particles by size and density. Once efficiently separated, Emami determined the physical, chemical, and functional properties of these fractions. This in-depth knowledge is required for the design, calculation, modeling, and optimization of food processing operations.
A more adequate understanding of chickpea protein’s thermal properties, for example, could enable superior operations involving heat transfer, such as freezing, thawing, cooking, drying, pasteurization, and sterilization, he said. Similarly, knowledge of frictional properties could aid in the storage and packaging of chickpea flour, since “an inherent problem with food powders, generally, is their agglomeration and compaction during storage.”
Overall, Emami hopes that as a result of his improved separation process, there will be an increase in the processing of chickpea grain, which is currently exported, like most other Canadian pulses, as a raw – although cleaned and graded – product.
“Increased processing of pulses would contribute to the diversification of agriculture, and affect the economy in Western Canada.”
Emami is pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Guelph Food Research Centre, Agiculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Brette Ehalt writes profiles of grad students for the College of Graduate Studies and Research.