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Michael Tunick measures stretchability of low-fat mozzarella cheese on a pizza. Link to photo information
Chemist Michael Tunick measures the stretchability of low-fat mozzarella cheese on a commercial take-out pizza. Tunick was part of a team that developed the cheese, which is now being used in the National School Lunch Program. Click the image for more information about it.

Scientists Serve Up Fat-Fighting Food Products

By Jan Suszkiw
March 9, 2006

Yogurt could become an even healthier snack, thanks to C-Trim, a new, heart-healthy ingredient from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

C-Trim, a derivative of oats and barley that contains the soluble fiber beta-glucan, is one of several new products created by ARS scientists from across the country that cut calories, bolster food's nutritional value, or do both. This research is featured in Agricultural Research magazine's March 2006 issue, which focuses on the agency's latest research findings on obesity.

Another product ARS scientists are studying is mozzarella cheese. In 1992, agency researchers at Wyndmoor, Pa., began exploring new ways to cut mozzarella's fat content without sacrificing its flavor or stretchy texture, especially as a pizza topping.

In ARS' Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit at Wyndmoor, chemist Michael Tunick and colleagues worked on modifying the network of the milk protein casein. The result was a mozzarella with improved storage life and 10 percent fat-only half the normal fat content of mozzarella. Just as importantly, taste testers and pizza-eating students gave the cheese a thumbs-up.

Since the low-fat mozzarella's commercial debut in 1995, nearly 39 million pounds-with an estimated value of $57 million-have been produced for school lunch programs.

ARS chemist and inventor George Inglett is hoping C-Trim will also benefit consumers as a commercially successful, calorie-cutting product. At ARS' National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., collaborators like Mukti Singh are evaluating C-Trim's use in yogurt, chocolate, peanut spreads and other foods. Beyond just cutting calories, Singh wants to combine the health benefits of beta-glucan from C-Trim with those of yogurt. Beta-glucan is credited with helping the body regulate blood sugar levels and lower so-called "bad" cholesterol, diminishing the risk of obesity-related complications like heart disease.

In Singh's studies, the texture, total solids content and whey properties of yogurt enriched with 1 percent beta-glucan from C-Trim were similar to full- and low-fat yogurts.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.