Ph.D. Student, University of Parma
Nowadays the agro-food chain has to face several challenges resulting, for example, from the outcome of the climate changes. This scenario is also complemented by the growing need to create new value chains in reuse of co-products to maximize incomes and to minimize volumes of unmanageable materials, addressing them to high added value contexts. In the meantime, there is an increasing concern about healthy food among consumers. Moreover, there has been an intense diversification of the food market, with numerous cereal-based food products that has grown 15 times over the last decade. Maize (Zea mays), wheat (Triticum spp.) and rice (Oryza sativa) are the most important crops in worldwide, considered as staple food in many countries. Therefore, great attention is given to the overall characterization of co-products deriving from these cereals. They are mainly composed by the outer fractions of the caryopsis (bran, germ and pericarp), and depending on the grain species and the milling technology, these components result in different composition. Of particular interest is the study of bioactive compounds, such as phenolic compounds, dietary fibres and other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which these co-products could provide. On the other hand, the safety aspect is also to be taken into account. In fact, in cereal crops the presence of contaminants, such as mycotoxins, has been recognized. Consequently, in order to increase the value of these co-products, in terms of nutritional quality, several strategies of innovation are implemented. The use of bioprocessing as a pre-treatment, such as fermentation utilizing different types of microorganisms, is observed to be able to enhance the bioavailability of several bioactive compounds related to positive effects on health, and at the same time diminishing other anti-nutrients, i.e. phytates. Nevertheless, no studies regarding the possibility of using the same microorganisms with the aim to degrade mycotoxins, are available so far. In addition, many are the opportunities to develop tailor-made extraction procedures to recovery specific compounds of interests, while isolating other non-desirable components. However, the knowledge regarding the mechanism of action of biologically active compounds is still poor. In this way, last generation approaches as metabolomics sciences jointly with in vitro assays could help to understand better these molecules and their interactions with human organism.