Purple corn, purple corn

Wednesday, 14 October, 2020

Purple corn, purple corn

Australian researchers have unlocked the numerous health benefits of purple corn.

The Naturally Nutritious project, developed by the Health, Nutrition and Food Safety Fund, discovered that purple sweet corn has high levels of specific phytonutrients beneficial to human health.

Senior researcher Dr Tim O’Hare said the project investigated whether one could increase the nutrient content of a range of products so that consumers could get more bang for their buck, or ‘more nutrition per serve’.

One of the considerations of the research was the ‘look’ of the product that was being developed.

O’Hare said humans are visual beings, so the product needs to look attractive and visually differentiated from a ‘standard’ product of the same type.

“For example, purple sweet corn, developed from Peruvian purple maize, clearly looks different to yellow sweet corn. Of course, the product has to taste as good — if not better — than the standard product, because after all, this is food, and it should taste great. If it doesn’t taste great, then the likelihood of you buying it a second time drops dramatically,” he said.

“Purple and red anthocyanin pigments have been linked to improving cardiovascular health. So, increasing purple colour also increases the health value of vegetables.”

O’Hare said he wanted to develop a product fit for the supermarket, but doing so was not that simple.

“The difficulty is that the natural mutation that makes sweet corn ‘supersweet’ is positioned extremely close to the mutation that ‘blocks’ purple pigment production. The challenge was to break this tight genetic linkage so that the supersweet mutation is now alongside a ‘working’ part of the anthocyanin purple pigment pathway,” he said.

“The good news is that we have done this for two different supersweet mutations now, including ‘shrunken-2’, which the Australian sweet corn industry and much of the world is based upon.”

Purple sweet corn will become available to Australia’s vegetable growers following the issue of a public tender once the product is closer to a commercial hybrid.

“Through issuing a public tender, we can get the best people out there to carry it forward into the commercial world,” O’Hare said.

The project is progressing as planned with two years remaining.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/navee

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