Photo: Sini Pennanen

Reetta Kivelä: Healthy foods require a lot of research

Reetta Kivelä is studying how the healthy compounds contained in oats and cacao could be preserved throughout food processing and to finished products.

Food scientist Reetta Kivelä was always interested in science. She first started studying chemistry at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Helsinki, but was more and more attracted by food chemistry because of its tangible nature.

In her doctoral dissertation, Kivelä studied the changes that take place in oat fibres when processed for food. Oats contain beta-glucan, a soluble fibre with many proven health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol.

“This has been an incentive for developing new oat-based products. However, there is a certain lack of awareness of the behaviour of the beta-glucan and the preservation of its health effects in water-based processes, such as the manufacturing of drinks,” Kivelä says.

Today, Kivelä is a Senior Research Manager in Fazer’s research unit. She is still studying oats, but now also the health benefits of cacao and chocolate.
A particularly interesting topic is how the processing of cacao into chocolate affects flavanols, the important bioactive compounds found in chocolate.

Research shows that flavanols have a wealth of health benefits, including a beneficial effect on the health of the cardiovascular system.

“At the moment, Fazer is cooperating with the University of Helsinki in a study conducted with Finnish test subjects, where we look at the blood pressure effects of different types of chocolate. There have already been some very positive results,” Kivelä says.

A large part of food research is related to ensuring the safety of food products. The characteristics of raw materials have to be known thoroughly – to start with, the texture and shelf-life of finished products have to be just right.

“When we are buying food products from the shops, often we do not realise how much research was needed to get them there,” Kivelä says.

Text: Matti Remes