In 1889, a physician studying beriberi (now called thiamin deficiency) discovered that the disease disappeared when people replaced white rice with whole-grain rice. It was later discovered that vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is contained in the rice husks that are removed by the milling process.
People suffering from thiamin deficiencies often don’t know the cause of their symptoms, which may include exhaustion, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. U.S. laws require that the food industry fortify milled-wheat with thiamin. However, there are no comparable laws in some developing nations, where as much as a quarter of the population suffers from deficiencies. In the U.S., thiamin deficiencies cause problems in people with celiac disease, alcoholism, and low-calorie diets.
Dr. Mauer and Dr. Taylor’s research is aimed at improving the delivery of thiamin in food products because thiamin degrades over time. Their goals are to identify all factors that impact the stability of thiamin in food products (including those containing whole and refined wheat, rice, and corn) from production to storage, and to determine if new salt forms of thiamin can be produced.
The food industry currently uses two forms of thiamin to supplement food: thiamin hydrochloride and thiamin mononitrate. The team found that the crystalline forms of these types of thiamin are more stable than the amorphous (non-crystalline) forms, but that the vitamins are amorphous in many food formulations.
These ﬁndings could improve the current methods of delivering thiamin and lead to ways of incorporating thiamin into foods that have not been previously fortiﬁed, such as gluten-free products.
I became intrigued with food science as a kid when learning about NASA’s space food program from Tang to ice cream. My seventh grade science fair project was to develop ‘freeze dried space food.’
– Dr. Lisa Mauer