ARS Rice Batter Recipe Provides Healthier Fried Food

Fred Elaine ARS d1734 1

Lovers of fried chicken, fish, vegetables and other foods can thank two Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemists for inventing a cholesterol-free frying batter that can cut fat content by up to 50 percent, without a loss of crispness or taste.

Chemists Fred Shih and Kim Daigle of the ARS Food Processing and Sensory Quality Research lab in New Orleans found that batter made from rice flour absorbs far less oil than conventional wheat-flour batter.

The rice batter is a tool in the fight against America's obesity problem, said Daigle. "Anything we can do to reduce the fat we take in will be an improvement in our diet." In addition to the lower oil absorption, the batter developed by ARS is free of the eight most common food allergens. It is gluten-free, a particularly welcome benefit for the millions of Americans with wheat allergies and those with celiac disease.

Although the batter was patented in 2001, it was not commercialized for eight years, after it became a project in a technology transfer class at a community college. A professor and four students eventually licensed the technology, and formed a company to bring it to market. Their product, Choice Batter, is sold across the country by four major grocery chains, and sales over the next five years are expected to reach nearly $5 million.

This remarkable story of technology transfer began in 2007, when the class, part of the Entrepreneurship Program at Howard Community College, in Columbia, Maryland, conducted an in-depth review of the technology and its market potential. During their study, the students consulted extensively with Shih and Daigle. In 2008, the company formed by the professor and his students, CrispTek, received a license for the technology from ARS.

Aided by a $75,000 grant from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, CrispTek, assisted again by Shih and Daigle, developed a commercialization model. In 2009, ARS and CrispTek entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to further develop and commercialize the batter.

Through the CRADA, Shih and Daigle also helped scale up the product for marketing. CrispTek's success exemplifies how technologies from a federal lab can be fast-tracked to product development and sales when there is close collaboration between researchers and the commercial partner.

The rice batter won an ARS Technology Transfer Award in 2011, and was awarded an honorable mention the same year by the FLC Southeast Region for "Excellence in Technology Transfer."

Wheat flour, the chief ingredient in most commercial batter products gives fried chicken, fish, and other foods a crispy, golden coat. But it can also make food greasy, thanks in large part to the gluten it contains. Although this key wheat protein component keeps batter fluffy and firmly attached to food, unfortunately it also binds tightly with oil molecules, boosting the food's fat content.

Shih and Daigle, who were researching new uses for rice and its products, found that the proteins and starch in rice flour are chemically different from those in wheat, retaining a weaker grip on oil. In experiments, they fried up various rice batter formulations coated on skinless chicken breast nuggets. They then gently peeled off the coating and subjected it to a solvent extraction procedure that whisks away the oil for weighing and analysis.

Early versions of the rice batter cooked well and absorbed substantially less oil than wheat-based batters, but they didn't puff up as well, nor did they always stay coated on the meat. Shih and Daigle overcame those problems by modifying the rice flour with enzymatic and other treatments.

The result? A better batter.