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Ethanol production plant. Link to photo information
Typical ethanol plant in West Burlington, Iowa. A boom in ethanol production means more distiller's dried grains, a byproduct. A new market may be for cookies and other pastries, bread, pasta and other foods made from distiller's dried grains. Click the image for more information about it.

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Fuel for Your Body—and Car

By Don Comis
June 22, 2007

With an increasing percentage of the nation's corn harvest going to ethanol production, some are questioning the wisdom of taking away corn as food for people. But Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Kurt Rosentrater has a way to at least partially allay that concern: create new foods from an edible byproduct of ethanol production, distiller's dried grains (DDGs).

The new foods could include cookies, breads and pastas that are low in calories and carbohydrates, but high in protein and fiber.

Rosentrater, an agricultural engineer at the ARS North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory, Brookings, S.D, is working on many fronts to find new uses for the growing supply of DDGs as ethanol production roars along. One such front is making a better cookie out of distiller's grains.

Rosentrater is working with Padmanaban G. Krishnan, professor and acting department head of the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Hospitality at South Dakota State University, and colleagues to make cookies with DDGs flour, substituting it for more than 50 percent of the wheat flour normally used.

The cookies are smaller than those made with all-wheat flour because the high-protein/low-starch combination keeps the cookie batter from spreading as easily as batter made with 100 percent wheat. But the batter bakes consistently. The main problem right now is appeal. The fermentation process used to make ethanol often imparts a bitter off-flavor and odor to distiller's grains. That's why, to date, there have been no commercial foods made with ethanol byproducts.

But DDGs flour is often more nutritious than regular flour, because ethanol processing tends to concentrate the grain's protein and fiber three- to nine-fold.

Research on these uses was done in the 1980s, but interest then waned. Since 2000, there has been only one published study on food products made with distiller's dried grains, other than the studies by Rosentrater and colleagues.

Many new ethanol plants are designed for production of food-grade ingredients. Rosentrater and colleagues are among the few researchers today dedicated to giving them a way to make products that will sell like hotcakes.

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