Indigenising instant noodles: an interface of traditional Amaranthus leaves and wheat for improved food and nutrition security.
Qumbisa, Nothando Delight.
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Introduction: Instant noodles are becoming the new global staple and breakfast food due to their versatility and convenience. For centuries, instant noodles were a staple food only in East Asian countries; however, their consumption has increasingly grown globally. According to research findings, instant noodles are preferred because of their taste, extended shelf-life, affordability as well as convenience, which suits the busy lifestyle of the student and working population. There is a concern though, of the adequacy of nutrients obtained from instant noodles especially when consumed as a single food item. Researchers are therefore exploring the potential supplementation of noodles to make them a composite food to improve their nutritional value. Food supplementation using vegetable-based nutrients is steadily gaining momentum. It is a growing modern trend in response to consumer demands and health concerns. However, the use of traditional green leafy vegetables, which have high nutritional value, such as Amaranthus has been limited in South Africa. The aim of this study therefore was to investigate the nutritional quality, consumer acceptability and physical quality of Amaranthus-supplemented noodles among students at the University of Zululand (UniZulu), KwaDlangezwa Campus in South Africa. This was done to indigenize the product in an effort to mitigate food and nutrition insecurity challenges. Methodology: A quantitative research approach was followed in conducting the study. Descriptive and experimental designs were applied. A survey was conducted with 100 students to investigate the consumption of noodles and utilisation of Amaranthus among students using a self-administered questionnaire. Stratified purposive quota sampling was used to recruit participants for the survey investigating the utilisation of noodles. Amaranthus-supplemented noodles were developed by substituting wheat flour at 1, 2 and 3% (w/w) with Amaranthus leaf powder in a standard noodle recipe. The noodle samples were analysed for nutritional composition using AOAC methods. The physical quality of cooked noodle samples was assessed in terms of colour (CIELAB system) and texture (using texture analyser), and consumer acceptability was assessed by 60 untrained panellists. Results: The survey results indicated that the majority (93%) of the university students consumed instant noodles. The students consumed an average of two packets per week, as well as eight packets (per person) per month. About 58% of the students ate noodles as their main subsistence food without other food items to improve nutrient intake. About 14% of the students ate noodles with other food items such as mayonnaise, sauces, cheese, bread, with 5% of them combining noodles with pieces of chicken (2%), fish (1%) and boerewors/sausage (2%). Approximately 65% of the students mentioned two dominant attributes that influenced them to consume noodles: convenience (shelf-stable food) and time-saving (quick to prepare). The majority of the students (76%) knew of Amaranthus as a vegetable. Amongst the 76% that had knowledge of Amaranthus, 71% were consumers or had at least consumed Amaranthus once in their lifetime. The majority (92%) of the students consumed Amaranthus in the form of a leafy vegetable. Results of nutritional analysis showed that the protein content of Amaranthus leaf powder (ALP)-supplemented noodles was similar to that of the control (conventional instant noodles) and remained above the recommended percentage content (8%) for all the samples. Instant noodles supplemented with ALP had an improved fibre content, as well as ash content, suggesting that Amaranthus can be used to improve nutritional value. With regard to mineral composition, significant increases were observed for manganese, calcium and copper upon incorporation of ALP in the noodles. The antioxidant activity increased. Texture analyses results showed that ALP-supplemented noodles were softer (240 g cutting force) than the control, i.e. noodles without ALP (600 g force). The increase in ALP concentration had a significant effect on colour as shown by diminishing of yellowness of noodles while progressively shifting towards greenness. Sensory evaluation results revealed that the addition of ALP up to 3% was acceptable to the panellist. The green colour and soft texture of the noodles did not have a negative effect on the overall acceptability of the noodles. The texture of the 2% ALP-supplemented noodles was the most acceptable, although all other samples were similarly as acceptable. The sample with 3% got the lowest score for taste; however, overall it was more acceptable than other samples. Conclusion and recommendations This study confirmed that instant noodle consumption amongst university students is high. This consumption trend increases the risk of malnutrition as noodles were mostly consumed as a single meal (i.e. without vegetables or other accompanying foods). Amaranthus was an underutilized vegetable amongst the sampled population. Although others may have vast knowledge of the vegetable and its benefits, its consumption is still low. Amaranthus- supplemented noodles show a great potential for acceptability as an innovation. It is recommended that more products with this vegetable are developed so as to re-introduce it to the food system and reduce its stigmatization.