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Turning Wood Chips Into Nutritious Food

Turning Wood Chips Into Nutritious Food

Researchers take non-edible parts of plants and turn them in to food we can eat.

Turning Wood Chips Into Nutritious Food

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 18:00

Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

Wood chips and the husks and stalks of corn may not look appetizing or even edible, but now, biochemical engineers have developed a way to make non-edible parts of plants into edible, nutritious food.

Percival Zhang, a biochemical engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg said, “We can convert wood chips that become edible starch.”

Cellulose is the most common carbohydrate on earth and is found in all plants, even wood chips. But humans cannot digest it; cellulose passes through the body. Researchers have now found a way to make edible starch from cellulose in plants.

Zhang said, “Starch is the most important carbohydrate for human nutrition.”

The only important difference between cellulose and starch is how their atoms are bonded – or linked together. Using a series of chemical reactions, scientists broke up the bonds in cellulose from non-plant material, such as husks and wood, and relinked them together as a starch called amylose.

To make it more appealing, “you can use as a food additive to produce healthy food,” explained Zhang.

The starch produced by these previously inedible parts of plants is a good source of fiber for humans and may open doors to make food from any part of the plant.  

But, how does amylose taste?

“No taste at the beginning but when you chew for long it will taste a little sweet,” said Zhang.

The new technique could also be used to make edible, clear film for biodegradable food packaging.


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Karin Heineman

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.