"Superpopcorn" packs almost twice the amount of an essential nutrient
Although plain unbuttered popcorn is a relatively healthy snack, it's still not one that most people would think of as being particularly nutritious. That could change, however, as a new variety reportedly offers nearly twice the normal levels of an important nutrient.
Back in the 1990s, scientists introduced a gene variant called opaque-2 into a variety of non-popping corn known as dent corn. Doing so almost doubled the plant's production of lysine, which is an amino acid that's essential to human health. Levels of another essential amino acid, tryptophan, were also increased.
The result was a genetically modified variety of corn named Quality-Protein Maize (QPM), which is now being grown in some developing nations to help fight malnutrition.
And while QPM's kernels were initially rather soft and chalky – leaving them vulnerable to pests and harvesting damage – agronomists were able to breed that trait out of the plant, restoring the hard, glassy kernels of traditional dent corn.
Unfortunately, however, the scientists hadn't fully identified the genes responsible for that restorative effect. Therefore, when a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team led by Prof. David Holding tried modifying popcorn plants with opaque-2, they once again ended up with chalky kernels … that wouldn't pop.
After some experimentation, Holding and colleagues determined which genes were responsible for the restorative effect, then set about cross-breeding multiple generations of QPM dent corn with varieties of popcorn that contained those genes. They ended up with a lysine-rich hybrid popcorn with hard, glassy kernels that pop well when heated – it's known as High-lysine Quality Protein Popcorn, or QPP.
As an added bonus, in blind taste tests, volunteers preferred the taste and texture of certain types of QPP over that of regular popcorn.
"What we’ve developed here is a complete protein snack that can be marketed as a superfood due to its positive prebiotic qualities," said Holding. "And it isn’t just a snack food. It is also quite nutritious and could be beneficial as a dietary supplement in developing countries where protein is needed."
The research was partially funded by Chicago-based Conagra Foods, and is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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"What makes a non-nutritious snack 'relatively healthy'? A higher ratio of good stuff to bad stuff per 100 calories. By good stuff, I mean macro nutrients (protein, soluble fiber, non-soluble fiber, and monounsaturated fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and so on). By bad stuff, I mean "bad" fat (however medicine defines it), fast-digesting carbs, and potentially dangerous chemicals, like nitrates.
Me? I prefer nice organic corn, like Newman's Own. The rest of my diet already provides extra nutrition.